FILE - Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Taylor

Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Taylor, center, speaks in support of Gov. Tony Evers' plan to expand Medicaid as Sen. John Erpenbach, left, and Rep. Evan Goyke, listen Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Madison, Wis.

Democrats in Wisconsin are not giving up on their signature issue: Medicaid expansion. 

Three lawmakers, State Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, and state Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, announced the latest plan this week to add at least 80,000 people to the state's healthcare system. 

“Medicaid expansion is the moral and fiscally responsible decision, and every hour that goes by the Wisconsin taxpayers lose $115,000 [in federal funding]," Vining said. "Since Governor [Tony] Evers signed the budget over a month ago, $97 million that belonged to the Wisconsin taxpayers was sent by the federal government to states like New Jersey and Illinois, as well as Washington DC."

This is not the first time Vining and her fellow Democrats have tried that sales pitch. 

Evers included a Medicaid expansion in his first state budget, but the Republicans who control the state legislature stripped it out.

The debate in Madison is focused on costs. 

Democrats say by adding tens of thousands of people to Wisconsin's healthcare rolls, the state will be able to get more money back from the federal government as part of Medicaid's federal match. 

Evers has said the "savings" from that enhanced match could be a high as $324 million over the two years of Wisconsin's state budget. 

Republicans counter that adding people to Wisconsin's government healthcare rolls will actually cost taxpayers over $600 million.  That number comes from a combination of more people using emergency rooms and the higher costs that people with private insurance will ultimately pay to make up for what the government is not covering. 

Right now, there are 1.18 million people enrolled in some sort of government healthcare in Wisconsin.  That's about one in five people in the state. 

The 2020-2021 state budget earmarks a total $22 billion for Medicaid spending in Wisconsin. That's 27 percent of the entire two-year state budget. Wisconsin taxpayers are covering $10 billion of that out of their pockets. The federal government is contributing $12 billion. 

Republican state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said instead of expecting taxpayers to pick up more costs for more people, Wisconsin needs to encourage people to buy their own insurance. 

Nygren points to new numbers that show insurance rates in the health insurance market will be almost four percent lower next year. Evers shared the same numbers and said the same thing

Nygren also notes that Wisconsin has one of the highest rates of people with insurance. Wisconsin is ranked ninth in the nation when it comes to the number of people with healthcare coverage. 

"“According to Governor Evers, this reduction ‘further demonstrates that the individual market is stabilizing and Wisconsin residents are able to access more affordable coverage options.’," Nygren said. "I am glad to see that Governor Evers agrees, healthcare coverage on the marketplace is more affordable and accessible in Wisconsin without expanding welfare.”

The Democratic lawmakers pushing this latest attempt at Medicaid expansion say they are circulating their legislation at the Capitol, and are looking for support for their ideas. 

Staff Reporter

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.