Special Session Bill Would Push Back ACA-Related Deadlines in Wisconsin

Although reports indicate that the federal healthcare.gov insurance exchange website is working better than when it was launched in October, Wisconsin is taking action to make sure residents that are losing their state coverage, and thus must shop for coverage on the exchange, have plenty of time to do so.

Gov. Walker and the Legislature, through the state budget, rejected federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) funding for expanding Medicaid, opting to move residents over the federal poverty level off of medical assistance while also committing to providing state coverage to all childless adults between ages 19 and 64 and who have incomes that do not exceed 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

This two-part plan – moving people over the poverty line off BadgerCare while expanding coverage to all childless adults below the poverty line – means a large number of Wisconsinites face a January 1, 2014 deadline for finding new health care coverage, by either buying coverage on the federal exchange or enrolling in the state’s BadgerCare program.

Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS) estimates that nearly 83,000 childless adults will enroll in BadgerCare Plus between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014 when the current cap on enrollment is lifted.

DHS also estimates that around 72,000 people with incomes above the federal poverty level, who had previously qualified for Wisconsin’s BadgerCare program, will no longer qualify. These people will be able to buy coverage on the federal healthcare exchange with a federal subsidy, but it is not clear if they will do so and how much their actual out-of-pocket expense will be after the subsidy.

Gov. Walker called a special session of the Legislature to vote on a bill that would delay both the removal of persons over the poverty line and the addition of persons under the poverty line for three months in order ensure the federal exchange is up and running so that the group of people losing their state coverage will have plenty of time to shop for a new plan.

Republicans say that this bill is only necessary because the federal government was unable to uphold its promise to have a functioning healthcare exchange up and running by October 1. Democrats claim the bill pits the poor against the poorer since the people below the poverty line are not being allowed to enroll in BadgerCare until coverage ends for the people who will be moving from BadgerCare to the federal exchange.

The Joint Finance Committee approved the bill 11-2, with Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) joining all Republicans in support of the measure. The bill then went to the Assembly floor on December 4, where it was passed 64-32. The Senate will come to the floor to vote on the bill on December 19.

The bill also extends by three months the state’s high-risk insurance plan, known as the Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan (HIRSP), to provide a safety net during the transition for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

A more detailed analysis of the bill from a policy and fiscal perspective is available from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.