"The state made a mistake:" Gov. Walker's refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid again being debated

MADISON (WITI) -- Governor Scott Walker's controversial decision to turn down federal money that would have expanded health care coverage to the poor is once again being debated. Two new reports have been released -- one showing thousands more could have been covered, and the other saying the state's BadgerCare program faces a huge shortfall.

The White House has released a report entitled "Missed Opportunities" -- showing the effect of Governor Walker's decision to turn away millions in federal money to expand BadgerCare.

"Instead what we did was find a very responsible way to reduce the number of uninsured and still protect our taxpayers," Gov. Walker said.

The White House report examines the 24 states that chose to refuse the funds.

It contends Wisconsin could have insured 120,000 more people by taking the money. The report says expansion would lead to 11,200 new jobs by 2017 and result in nearly $2.6 billion in additional federal spending in Wisconsin.

"It continues to show that it was a terrible decision, and one we can reverse at any time," Kevin Kane with Citizen Action of Wisconsin said.

Kane researches health policy and is an advocate for expanding coverage.

"It's a huge missed opportunity, just like the name of the report, and we're still debating this because the question's not going away," Kane said.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson -- who has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act defends Gov. Walker's decision.

"I totally supported Governor Walker's approach not to accept the Medicaid expansion, because the federal government can't pay for the promises it's already made," Senator Johnson said.

The federal report comes one day after Gov. Walker's own Secretary of Health Services sent a letter to lawmakers saying Wisconsin's Medicaid fund faces a $93 million shortfall.

"I don't think you can sweep that under the rug and say, 'this is not a big deal,'" Kane said.

"I have no faith in the federal government to close the shortfall. If anything, we're going to make it work," Senator Johnson said.

The letter says the reason for the shortfall is BadgerCare "enrollment was higher than expected," which shows "progress made to the Governor's goal if providing access to Medicaid coverage" to more people.

"The state made a mistake in rejecting the federal funds, and it's a good thing we can take the federal funds in the future," Kane said.

Milwaukee County residents will be able to weigh in on this issue on the November ballot.

County supervisors have approved an advisory referendum -- asking whether the state should accept the federal money and expand BadgerCare.