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Gov. Walker faces growing pressure over Medicaid expansion

Gov. Walker faces growing pressure over Medicaid expansion
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Wisconsin could save $400 million over two years if state officials agree to expand Medicaid, raising pressure on Republican Gov. Scott Walker to move forward with the politically divisive ObamaCare policy. The estimates released Tuesday indicate that Wisconsin could benefit even more than expected from the Medicaid expansion, according to research from the state’s budget office.

The new figures – which are $84 million more than an estimate last fall – come at a crucial time for Walker, who has adamantly refused to expand the federal program but now faces a $2 billion budget hole.

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The Wisconsin legislature is just beginning to dive into a debate over the state's budget, of which healthcare spending eats up a growing portion.

Democratic lawmakers launched an effort Monday to move forward with Medicaid expansion, which would cover all adults under the age of 65 living at or below 133 percent of the poverty level. It would be based off the model recently approved by Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, which required approval from the Obama administration because it veers slightly from federal guidelines for expansion.

Wisconsin’s budget office estimated that 152,000 people would be added to Medicaid’s rolls under the expansion, 12 percent more than its last estimate in August – which would mean a total of $1.2 billion in matching dollars from the federal government.

But blocking ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion remains a conservative litmus tests among Republican governors, particularly those eying the 2016 presidential race. No Republican state lawmakers have yet signed on to the expansion bill, though Republican state Sen. Luther Olsen told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday that the idea is worth talking about.

Advocacy groups are also amplifying their calls for Medicaid expansion in the final two years of President Obama's tenure. Families USA released a report last month that warned millions of people will continue to lack coverage under ObamaCare unless the remaining 23 states opt to expand the low-income insurance program.

Some Republican governors in more liberal-leaning states, like Chris Christie of New Jersey, moved quickly to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare. Meanwhile, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry – also potential 2016 GOP contenders – have blasted the expansion as federal overreach into state healthcare programs.

Walker has taken a less combative stance, though he said he would rather find alternative ways to offer healthcare for the poor.

"Why is more people on Medicaid a good thing?” Walker said at an event last fall. “I’d rather find a way, particularly for able-bodied adults without children, I’d like to find a way to get them into the workforce. I think ideologically, that’s a better approach, not just as a conservative, but as an American."