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Wisconsin’s GOP power grab will have devastating consequences for health care

"If these bills pass, it will make it more difficult for Wisconsin working families to get access to quality, affordable care."

RACINE, WI - NOVEMBER 04: Democratic candidate for Wisconsin Governor, Tony Evers speaks to supporters at the Racine County Democratic office on November 4, 2018 in Racine, Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)
RACINE, WI - NOVEMBER 04: Democratic candidate for Wisconsin Governor, Tony Evers speaks to supporters at the Racine County Democratic office on November 4, 2018 in Racine, Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled, lame-duck legislature is trying to disparage the powers of incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, preventing the elected officials from keeping key campaign promises on health care.

The blue wave came to Wisconsin after residents rejected union-busting, anti-Obamacare Gov. Scott Walker (R) in November. But now, GOP state lawmakers are trying to secure their conservative agenda. On Tuesday, the legislature is scheduled to take up hundreds of measures that could ultimately deny Evers and Kaul the ability to make significant changes to health care — the top issue that galvanized people to the polls. Debate time is unlimited, meaning the vote could occur late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

“Affordable healthcare was the core issue in the 2018 elections, and I think it is one of the key reasons why voters elected Governor-Elect Tony Evers,” said Wisconsin State Representative Greta Neubauer (D), in a statement to ThinkProgress.

“This package takes Walker-era policies aimed at gutting the social safety net and makes them more extreme, and removes the next governor and attorney general’s ability to deal with the fallout. With only four days from introduction to vote, there isn’t enough time to fully vet and understand the full effect of this legislation. However, the bottom line is clear: If these bills pass, it will make it more difficult for Wisconsin working families to get access to quality, affordable care,” she added.

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Residents swarmed the state legislature Monday night to pressure and stop local GOP lawmakers from participating in what has become an anti-democratic state trend. (Republican lawmakers in North Carolina successfully stripped the incoming Democratic Governor’s power in 2016, blocking him from expanding Medicaid.)

Wisconsinites voted for Evers’ and Kaul’s ideas. But should the GOP prevail and strip the incoming administration’s power, residents won’t get what they voted for.

Medicaid work requirements

Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature is essentially trying to upend a power historically reserved by governors: the ability to seek innovation waivers. They are hoping to add more red tape, requiring these innovation waivers to go through a legislative committee.

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This would affect Evers’ ability to withdraw from a punitive Medicaid policy. Just days before the election, Walker got federal permission to implement work requirements, soon requiring low-income residents to report 80 hours of work a month to keep their health coverage. He also got the Trump administration’s okay to drug screen some Medicaid enrollees. Should the GOP get its way, Evers would not be able to do anything about this; meaning, work requirements would be implemented — a policy that led to coverage losses in Arkansas.

Evers also vowed to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s Medicaid expansion if elected, but this already required the legislature’s help. That said, the power grab will likely stir up tension between the governor-elect and legislature, which could make this campaign promise hard to fulfill.

Wisconsin is one of more than a dozen conservative states that refused to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid eligibility; had Walker accepted expansion in full, the state would have saved about $1.1 billion between 2014 and 2019. But instead, Walker pursued a “partial” Medicaid expansion experiment, meaning 80,000 fewer adults have Medicaid and are struggling to afford health care.

Withdraw from lawsuit to end Obamacare

The power grab also affects the powers of the attorney general.

Attorney General Brad Schimel, who narrowly lost to Kaul, was a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by 20 GOP attorneys general who are arguing that the ACA — and with it, protections for people with pre-existing conditions — is unconstitutional. Schimel’s involvement likely contributed to his loss, as the ACA consumer protections, specifically, were a top issue for voters this midterm election.

Polling continues to show that the majority of voters are concerned with the lawsuit’s outcome and want lawmakers, instead, to shore up these consumer protections. In his acceptance speech, Kaul promised to remove Wisconsin from the multi-state lawsuit. But the legislature is trying to stop that from happening. What’s more, GOP members are trying to ensure Wisconsin stays party to the lawsuit no matter what and are voting for a legislative committee to be a plaintiff instead of the attorney general, according to a Democratic legislative aid.

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What GOP lawmakers are trying to do is so widespread, local officials are still parsing through details they just received on Friday. However, it’s clear the legislature’s measures go beyond health care. For example, one proposal seeks to codify voter identification laws, a move that would disproportionately affect minority voters in Milwaukee County, who played a key role in securing Evers’ win.