Defending his fellow Republican governors’ decision to block Medicaid expansion in their states, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Friday suggested that denying health coverage to additional low-income Americans helps more people “live the American Dream” because they won’t be “dependent on the American government.”
Walker has recently leveled some criticism at other GOP leaders for accepting Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion, saying they shouldn’t necessarily trust the government to come through with the federal funds to cover the policy. During an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday, Walker was asked whether his position stemmed from an “ideological criticism,” and if he believes the handful of Republican governors implementing this provision of the health law are not “genuine conservatives.”
The governor didn’t explicitly answer that question, pointing out that every state has different needs. But he did offer a broader criticism of the public health program.
“Beyond that, I just ask the basic question: Why is more people on Medicaid a good thing?” he said. “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. Have more people live the American dream if they’re not dependent on the American government.”
In reality, however, the majority of people who stand to benefit from the Medicaid expansion are already in the workforce. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been closely tracking the policy effect of states’ decisions on this Obamacare provision, most of the people in this coverage gap are part of a demographic group known as the “working poor.” Two thirds of them are part of a family where someone is working, and more than half of them are working themselves — often in sectors like the agricultural and service industries, which have a history of failing to provide insurance benefits to their workers.
Last fall, the New York Times analyzed the data about the coverage gap and confirmed that the Americans being denied Medicaid are cashiers, cooks, nurses’ aides, waiters and waitresses, and janitors. Most of them are people of color, and many are single mothers. They don’t fit the conservative trope of the lazy individual who is overly dependent on the government programs — and, as the New York Times reported at the time, they are actually “the very kinds of people that the [Medicaid] program was intended to help.”
Nonetheless, 20 states have refused to move forward with the expansion. According to Kaiser’s latest estimates, about four million low-income people across the country currently fall into the coverage gap. If every state accepted the Medicaid expansion, the national uninsurance rate would be two percentage points lower.
Although Walker has maintained his resistance to Obamacare’s traditional Medicaid expansion, there isn’t a coverage gap in his state. Even before the passage of the health reform law, Wisconsin had a generous Medicaid program that allowed people with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line to qualify. But the threshold varies for each state, and low-income people living in other places aren’t so lucky. In Louisiana and Texas, for instance, a family of three with an annual income over $5,000 makes too much money to receive any Medicaid assistance.