MADISON — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers pledged Thursday, May 2 to "fight like hell" to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin, a day after Republican legislative leaders said they would kill his proposal next week.
A defiant Evers and Democratic lawmakers held a news conference to urge the public to call Republicans and tell them to approve Medicaid expansion. They cited public opinion polls that showed a wide majority of support for Medicaid expansion.
"We're not giving up," Evers said.
He made expanding Medicaid a centerpiece of his successful campaign last year against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a longtime opponent of Medicaid expansion. Evers took his victory as a sign that voters want Wisconsin to join a majority of other states that have accepted the federal money.
Medicaid expansion is a centerpiece of Evers' two-year budget proposal. Taking the money would make $1.6 billion available in federal money to pay for a host of other health care priorities, while also making Medicaid available to about 82,000 additional poor childless adults and parents.
But Republican co-chairs of the Legislature's budget committee said Wednesday they would vote next week to remove Medicaid expansion from Evers' spending plan, along with a host of his other top priorities including legalizing medical marijuana, raising the minimum wage, capping voucher school enrollment and all but ending a manufacturing tax credit program.
Republicans have long opposed Medicaid expansion, raising concerns about the federal government's commitment to keep up its funding level and a low reimbursement rate for Medicaid providers. However, some Republican lawmakers have publicly called for a compromise.
"I'm going to fight like hell for Medicaid expansion and I'm going to need your help to get it done," Evers said Thursday. "I need you to call your legislators and tell them you support Medicaid expansion."
Evers dodged a question about whether he would sign a budget that doesn't expand Medicaid.
"We're not ceding anything, we're not negotiating against ourselves," he said. "We have to have this."
Evers and Democrats singled out Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has been the most outspoken critic of expansion. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said Vos should be ashamed of himself.
"Robin Vos's will is not the will of the people of Wisconsin," Evers said.
Vos and Republican lawmakers planned to respond to Evers at a noon news conference Thursday.
Democratic state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, of Milwaukee, said Republicans were "thumbing their nose" at Wisconsin families.
"Republicans have shown they do not stand with Wisconsin's women," she said. "They do not stand with the children of Wisconsin. They do not stand with Wisconsin families."
The most recent Marquette University Law School poll released in April showed 70 percent support for Medicaid expansion.
Accepting the Medicaid expansion as envisioned in Evers' budget would bring in $324 million in federal funding that could be invested in other programs to tap even more federal dollars and result in a $1.6 billion investment in health care priorities.
That includes increasing reimbursement rates for doctors and other health care providers, raising county aid for crisis mental health services and spending more on women's health care initiatives.