Republican Lawmakers Approve $588M Increase In Medicaid, Health Care Spending

Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday moved forward with their own spending plan for Medicaid in Wisconsin after rejecting Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to expand it.

The GOP-backed plan increases state spending by about $588 million on Medicaid and related health care programs, but spends about $187 million less than the governor called for.

Republicans zeroed out funding for an early intervention program for children with developmental disabilities and a program aimed at curbing tobacco use, among others.

They also decreased spending from Evers’ plan by about $26 million for county mental health crisis intervention services and $39 million for dental care for low-income individuals.

However, Republicans did find some areas of agreement with the governor.

Their plan includes increases larger than those requested by Evers for Medicaid reimbursements for nursing homes and personal care workers.

Committee co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said lawmakers heard a lot about the state’s low payment rate for personal care workers, as well as the number of nursing homes closing across the state, at public budget committee hearings earlier this year.

“This is a budget that we really listened to the people,” Darling said to reporters before the vote. “People told us we need to save our nursing homes, we need to invest in our personal care workers.”

The spending plan increases the hourly rate for personal care workers from  $16.73 to $18.24 an hour starting July 1, 2019.

The GOP plan also increases funding for nursing homes by $37 million, bumping reimbursement rates by about 6 percent over the next two years.

“There’s nothing more threatening than thinking that the nursing home where your parents are is thinking about closing, or the fact that you want to keep your parents in the home and can’t get personal care workers there because there’s not enough payment for those,” Darling said. “This is very personal stuff.”

Republicans also voted to approve the governor’s recommendation to fund intake, application and screening costs for children’s long-term care services. That would allow the state to eliminate a waiting list for a program that serves children with disabilities.