Number of Childless Adults in BadgerCare Jumps by More than 7,000 in February
The latest open enrollment period for the federal insurance Marketplace caused tens of thousands of Wisconsinites to apply for health insurance – sharply increasing the number of people signing up for subsidized plans and also causing a big jump in BadgerCare enrollment. Those trends are a major success story for the Affordable Care Act, but they pose a challenge for state lawmakers.
The number of childless adults in BadgerCare has jumped by more than 10% since December, which significantly increases the program’s cost. However, that unanticipated surge in enrollment also substantially increases the amount the state could save if state lawmakers accept the federal funding that would pay almost all of the cost of covering childless adults. Read more
BadgerCare Cuts Have Made Wisconsin More Reliant on the Federal Marketplace
The latest Supreme Court case relating to the federal health care reform law is particularly important for Wisconsin. Our state has a lot at stake because of the decision to rely on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to make subsidized private health insurance available to tens of thousands of people formerly eligible for BadgerCare. In addition, as the Star Tribune reported, Marketplace premiums are higher in Wisconsin than in most other states, which makes subsidies more important here.
Oral arguments in the case, King vs. Burwell, were heard today. The case calls into question whether low and moderate income people using the Federal Exchange (Marketplace) to purchase health insurance are allowed to receive the subsidies that currently help them pay for that insurance coverage.
The plaintiffs argue that there is language in the ACA that seems to say subsidies are available only to people living where Marketplaces are “established by the state.” If their argument is accepted by the Court, eligibility for the subsidies would end in Wisconsin and up to 36 other states (unless they move quickly to establish their own insurance Marketplaces). Read more
New survey figures released by Gallup this week show that the number of uninsured adults dropped again in the last quarter of 2014 and is down sharply since 2013. Even as Paul Ryan and some other members of Congress argue that the Affordable Care Act is “beyond repair,” the Gallup survey data show the law has been quite successful in achieving a key objective. As the Gallup analysis concludes:
“The Affordable Care Act has accomplished one of its goals: increasing the percentage of Americans who have health insurance coverage.”
According to the new Gallup findings, the portion of Americans between 18 and 64 who are uninsured declined from 21.2% in the third quarter of 2013 to 15.5% in the fourth quarter of 2014. By my calculations, that amounts to a reduction of more than 10.8 million non-elderly adults who are uninsured – a drop of about 27%.
Here are some of the other highlights of the new Gallup data:
- The uninsured rate for adults of all ages, which peaked at 18% in the third quarter of 2013 (as shown in the graph above), declined to 13.4% a year later and to just 12.9% in the last quarter of 2014.
While Hospitals Elsewhere Back Medicaid Expansion, Wisconsin Hospitals Offer a Fallback Plan
Hospitals in Wisconsin and many parts of the U.S. are asking state policymakers to take measures to reduce the amount of uncompensated care, although the recommended measures aren’t always quite the same. In our state, the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) is asking state lawmakers to renew an expiring appropriation that provides state financial relief to hospitals that care for a disproportionate share of the uninsured or underinsured.
The $30 million state appropriation, which expires in June, captures $44 million in federal funds for “disproportionate share hospitals” (DSH). Wisconsin Health News reported last week that WHA plans to ask state policymakers to renew the appropriation. Extending that funding makes sense if state lawmakers continue to refuse to expand BadgerCare to cover more low-income adults, but the expansion option could save the state close to $300 million in the next budget and do far more to improve access to insurance and help hospitals. Read more
A Walker campaign ad that criticizes Mary Burke for her stance relating to the Affordable Care Act (aka the ACA or “Obamacare”) is based on a false premise. It incorrectly equates supporting the expansion of BadgerCare with supporting an expansion of “Obamacare.”
Although I don’t think one can say that either candidate supports “expanding Obamacare,” I believe a strong case can be made that the Governor’s plan relies more heavily on a key part of the Affordable Care Act. For reasons I’ll explain below, his changes to BadgerCare do more than Burke’s alternative to expand the reach of the core part of the ACA – the new federal Marketplace for health insurance and the substantial federal funding to subsidize Marketplace insurance plans.
One of the major problems with the ad is that implementing part of a federal law and taking advantage of federal funding is not the same thing as supporting expansion of that law. Read more
Without intending to do so, the Department of Health Services (DHS) budget request has substantially strengthened the arguments for expanding BadgerCare and taking federal funding available for that purpose, which would erase much of the state’s currently projected Medicaid funding shortfall. There are many compelling reasons to accept the federal funding, and the DHS budget request unveiled last week adds to that list.
The following are four aspects of the budget request that bolster the arguments for expanding BadgerCare eligibility for adults up to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Although the first point noted below is reason enough to take the federal funding, a closer reading of the DHS budget request reveals other reasons why the strong arguments for expanding BadgerCare are now even stronger.
1) The $760 million in additional state revenue needed simply for a cost-to-continue budget – The DHS budget request seeks an increase of $760 million in state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) simply to maintain current Medicaid and BadgerCare benefits. Read more
In the Wisconsin debate about whether to accept federal funding for expanding BadgerCare, there has been little attention paid to a significant inconsistency used in the arguments made by many opponents of using those funds.
Expanding BadgerCare coverage to all adults below 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) would save significantly more money for state taxpayers than previously estimated. According to a memo prepared last week by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), expanding BadgerCare but would save state taxpayers an estimated $206 million during the 2013-15 biennium, compared to current law, but would cover 87,000 more adults than the state now expects to insure via BadgerCare at the end of the current fiscal year. That savings is $87 million more than the LFB calculated when the budget bill was being debated.
To put this news a little differently, by rejecting federal funding that would finance the full cost of providing BadgerCare to all newly eligible adults up to 138% of FPL, state lawmakers cost Wisconsin taxpayers $206 million in the current biennium and far more than that in the next biennial budget. One of the things making this news particularly significant is that the Department of Health Services estimated in late June that the state is facing a $93 million GPR deficit in the Medicaid budget. Read more
Advocates Seek DHS Help in Understanding the Decline
There have been a couple of big surprises in the recent data relating to BadgerCare. One is the much greater-than-anticipated increase in the enrollment of adults without dependent children. (Read more here.) The other is that the number of kids covered by BadgerCare has been decreasing, at a time when the budget bill assumed there would be a large increase.
A new WCCF fact sheet shows the BadgerCare enrollment trends since last September (and since the beginning of 2014), which are broken out for different categories of coverage and income levels. Here are two of the key findings relating to coverage of children:
- The number of children over the poverty level who are enrolled in BadgerCare and Transitional Medicaid (TMA) has dropped by more than 22,000 (12.5%) since September of last year.
- That decline has been partially offset by an increase of almost 13,500 children below the poverty level, yielding a net loss of more than 8,600 kids in BadgerCare and Transitional Medicaid.
Today’s Circuit Court Ruling Reinforces the Inconsistencies in State Lawmakers’ Reasoning
Should state lawmakers turn down federal funds whenever there’s a risk that the funding in question could be cut in future years? If so, why is Wisconsin proceeding with major highway and bridge construction plans at a time when Congress is using short-term gimmicks to keep the Highway Trust Fund from becoming insolvent? And why did Wisconsin cut BadgerCare eligibility in half for parents, based on reliance on federal funding to subsidize the federal health insurance Marketplace?
That last question has gotten little attention over the past year, but it will be raised more often following a ruling today by a subset of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Two of the three judges participating in that ruling concluded that federal subsidies for the health insurance Marketplace can only go to people in states that set up their own Marketplaces. Read more