‘It’s about America.’ Pa. lawmakers join efforts to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Without Medicaid, Pam Simpson — a Chester County resident — would have to choose between bankruptcy or having her autistic son go without much-needed therapy.

If Simpson lived in Wisconsin, one of a dozen states that haven’t expanded assistance, her decision would be in the hands of a GOP-controlled Legislature that won’t consider or even deliberate expanding Medicaid.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, both Democrats, have joined Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a fellow Democrat, to push for expansion in the Badger State. 

If approved, the 91,000 residents living under 138 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for benefits. Current benefits are available to those living 100 percent below the threshold.

“Medicaid tells us who we are and whom we value,” Casey said Friday during a joint event with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin lawmakers. 

Casey, who read a 2017 letter from Simpson, added: “It’s about America. It’s about whether or not we’re going to make sure that those who need care are going to get that care or not.”

Earlier this week, Evers signed an executive order calling for a special session where lawmakers convened and ended within seconds — dampening chances for extended benefits and the state to receive a $1 billion bonus in federal relief funding. The federal relief could have funded more than 20 statewide projects to fix roads and bridges, increase broadband, and save jobs, Evers said.

“It makes practical sense,” Wolf said of the proposed expansion.

For years, Wisconsin Democrats have advocated for expanded eligibility for BadgerCare Plus — the state’s Medicaid program. Evers, joined by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., said it makes sense, especially coming out of a global pandemic.

About one-third of children, two-thirds of seniors in care facilities, and 40 percent of people with disabilities in Pennsylvania receive Medicaid assistance, Casey said. As of June 2019, more than two million Pennsylvania residents were on Medicaid, according to state data.

Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid in 2015. Lost jobs and changes to federal assistance programs prompted a shift to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. In February, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services reported that statewide enrollment in Medicaid increased by 366,068 since February 2020 — bringing total enrollment to more than three million.

But Republicans in Wisconsin defended themselves in a letter, telling Evers that expansion is “unneeded and even reckless.” They added that those living above the poverty line can still purchase affordable, federally subsidized insurance through the marketplace.

However, even the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has called for expanded benefits — citing health benefits for residents and financial benefits for the state.

“This is not creating a welfare state as the Republicans would like to put it,” Evers said. “It is creating better healthcare for Wisconsinites.”

Marley Parish
A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.