Governor Walker's Budget Brings Much Needed Entitlement Reform
By Dennis G. Smith, Secretary Wisconsin Department of Health Services
Governor Scott Walker's budget proposals for the Department of Health Services (DHS) represent a bold, yet commonsense, approach to entitlement reform. The Governor's proposals on Medicaid and Food Stamp reform provide a compassionate and straightforward message-in Wisconsin, you can count on your neighbor when you need help, but you shouldn't ask him or her to do something you can do for yourself.
The policy debate ahead needs to be informed by facts. The Medicaid budget will serve roughly the same number of people as are currently enrolled while the number of uninsured across the state is projected to decrease by 224,580. In other words, 47 percent fewer people will be uninsured under this plan. State spending on Medicaid will increase by more than $644 million. This is in addition to the $1.2 billion in new money Governor Walker provided for Medicaid in his first budget. Access to affordable coverage will be preserved. For an individual at the lowest income level of those who will have to pay a premium for coverage, their payment will be 19 dollars per month, or less than 65 cents per day. Even still, some will choose to do without coverage, but that will be their choice. Government does not exist to make all of our choices for us. We believe, based on experience of the past six months, the majority of individuals will see the value of insurance coverage even when they have to pay a reasonable share of the cost.
There are some who think the state should expand Medicaid coverage to as many people as possible and send the bill to the federal government. The flaw in this thinking is the federal government has no money of its own. It gets it from the same people as the state does. There is no "gain" for the taxpayers paying for the cost of expanding Medicaid if the bill is paid by the federal government rather than the state. Moreover, the "spend as much as you can today, don't worry about tomorrow" attitude is why the federal government and a number of states are in fiscal trouble. The price for full Medicaid expansion would mean forfeiting too much control to a distant bureaucracy. The state would lose commonsense Medicaid reforms secured last year, which ensure the program is available to those who need it most.
Entitlement reform goes beyond Medicaid in this budget. Governor Walker does not want anyone left behind as the economy continues to recover. Recently, he announced his intention to commit $16.9 million to support job training for able-bodied adults without children on the Food Stamp program, known as "FoodShare" in Wisconsin, to ensure they receive the skills they need to fully return to the work force. For too long, most states, including Wisconsin, asked the federal government to waive work requirements for these participants, using a mistaken rationale that they face too many barriers to employment. It is less costly to the state to simply let them collect benefits than offer them a helping hand. That was the easy path to take. It was also the wrong path to take. Governor Walker will invest in the future of these individuals and their families to help them break the cycle of poverty and dependence. The work of preparing a comprehensive program to help this population successfully participate in our economic recovery will be challenging, but things worth doing always are.
Under Governor Walker's budget, Wisconsin will continue its traditions of blending compassion with responsibility, as well as its leadership role in reinventing government by reforming entitlements to their true purpose of providing a temporary hand-up, rather than a permanent handout. Thereby, continuing to move Wisconsin forward by helping individuals transition from a cycle of dependence to a position of certainty that comes with self-reliance and independence from government.