Gov. Walker faces big decision regarding whether to expand Medicaid

MADISON (WITI) -- The battle over the national health care law is now being fought state-by-state. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker faces a big decision regarding whether to expand Medicaid in the state.

When President Barack Obama signed his health care overhaul, expanding Medicaid became the central element of his plan to insure all Americans, but each state has to agree to take the federal money.

For Gov. Walker, it is a delicate political calculus. So far, he's not hinting at a decision.

"We're looking at all of our options from expansion to no expansion at all to places in between," Gov. Walker said.

Medicaid is the federal and state program that provides health care to the poor and disabled. It is known in Wisconsin as "BadgerCare." 

If Gov. Walker chooses to expand Medicaid, he risks alienating his conservative base, which strongly opposed President Obama's health care law.

If Gov. Walker rejects expanding Medicaid, it could have a negative impact on the flow of Medicaid dollars to hospitals -- some of the state's largest employers.

"Certainly we'd love to do things that lower health care costs -- and our goal is to reduce the number of people who are uninsured in this state," Gov. Walker said.

So far, five Republican governors say they will expand Medicaid, and several others, including influential voices Rick Perry, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal all say they won't. An expansion in Wisconsin would mean an additional 175,000 poor adults would be covered.

"The question is whether or not we take all the federal money that doesn't appear to be fully appropriated right now," Gov. Walker said.

Democratic lawmakers are demanding Gov. Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature expand Medicaid coverage. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau's analysis says taking the money would save the state $65 million.

"This isn't about loving or hating Obamacare.  It's about knowing a good deal when you see one.  This is a good deal," state Rep. Jon Richards said.

Gov. Walker is expected to announce his decision during his annual budget address on Februrary 20th.