BadgerCare may cost millions more than expected

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Posted: May 22, 2014 1:33 PM
BadgerCare may cost millions more than expected

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Nearly 14,000 more low-income earners in Wisconsin are enrolled in BadgerCare than what Gov. Scott Walker’s administration projected when the governor signed the state budget in July.

Those enrollment figures, released by the state Department of Health Services, will fluctuate throughout the year as Walker’s overhaul of the state’s Medicaid program takes form. But if the early numbers hold steady, state taxpayers could pay tens of millions of dollars more than what lawmakers budgeted for when they signed off on Walker’s BadgerCare reform plan.

PAY UP: State taxpayers could be on the hook for millions more than was expected when Gov. Walker implemented Medicaid reform.

Walker rejected $119 million over the biennium from the federal government to expand the state’s Medicaid program under Obamacare. He said he preferred state government offer residents “a hand-up rather than a hand-out,” and he didn’t trust the federal government’s promise to pay 90 percent of the cost of expanded Medicaid in the future.

But state taxpayers may have to pay even more than expected in the short-term.

If current enrollment figures hold, state taxpayers would pay an additional $63 million for BadgerCare through June 2015, with the federal government picking up an additional $94 million, using the average per person Medicaid enrollment cost the Legislative Fiscal Bureau provided to the Legislature in November.

That represents just 1.3 percent of the $4.8 billion in state funds budgeted for Medicaid costs this biennium.

Claire Smith, a spokeswoman at DHS, cautioned against reading too much into the early enrollment numbers. Cost estimates for the budget were crafted on average expected BadgerCare enrollment over a two-year period, and much can change between now and next June.

Even if enrollment remains greater than expected, DHS could find other savings in the broader Medicaid program to offset a greater-than-expected increase in BadgerCare costs, she said.

DHS Secretary Kitty Rhoades reported to the Joint Finance Committee in March the department already found substantial cost-saving measures, including $20 million from moving some BadgerCare recipients to the Children’s Health Insurance Program — the federal government pays a larger share of CHIP costs than it does with traditional Medicaid. She noted the department would need to find $20.3 million in program savings by June 2015 to stay on budget.

“If actual enrollment exceeds these levels, Medicaid expenditures will be higher,” she wrote.

DHS will submit updated Medicaid cost estimates to the Joint Finance Committee in June.

Contact Ryan Ekvall at rekvall@watchdog.org, at 608-257-1382 or follow him on Twitter @Nockian.