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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos: Medicaid expansion will never happen, but medical marijuana might

Vos said Wisconsin's BadgerCare program covers the state's poorest citizens, making Medicaid expansion unnecessary

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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, responds to questions posed by Tim Stumm, founding editor of Wisconsin Health News, at an event at the Madison Club in downtown Madison, Wis., on June 13, 2013. Anya van Wagtendonk/WPR

Medicaid expansion will never happen under the leadership of Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, but a Republican proposal on medical marijuana could be unveiled later this summer, the lawmaker pledged on Tuesday.

Vos, R-Rochester, made the remarks at a luncheon hosted by Wisconsin Health News at the Madison Club. He spoke about his health care priorities, including his overarching philosophy that American health care is accessible and high-quality — and therefore costs more.

“That is the challenge that I think we have, because it can’t simply be a role of state government to subsidize the system. But I think it can make sure that we have access for those who are the most poor in partnership with the federal government,” he said.

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Vos said Wisconsin’s existing BadgerCare program covers the state’s poorest citizens, which would make Medicaid expansion unnecessary.

“As long as I am the assembly speaker, Medicaid expansion will never happen,” he said. “There is not a single person who would benefit from Medicaid expansion that does not already qualify for either free or super-duper, duper, duper cheap Obamacare.”

The state Department of Health Services found that Medicaid expansion would broaden coverage access to roughly 89,700 additional people in Wisconsin.

While there are functional differences between public insurance and private plans administered through the Affordable Care Act, Vos’ statement underlined a broader point he made later: that his policy priorities include moving more people into the private insurance marketplace, which he said is better for workers, employers and providers alike.

He differs with some members of his party who are pushing for a Medicaid expansion for low-income mothers up to a year following childbirth.

Currently, people with family incomes under 300 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for extended Medicaid benefits for at least 60 days after giving birth. A bipartisan bill to expand that coverage to a year is supported by a range of lawmakers, including some anti-abortion lawmakers who have described it as a way of supporting mothers and families. Gov. Tony Evers has also called for the expansion.

Vos said it would be a burden on the Medicaid system.

“I don’t think it’s right to give it away for free, to be honest. I think everybody, when you make a choice to have a child — which I am glad that people do — it’s not the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay for the delivery of that child, right? We do it for people who are in poverty,” he said. “To now say, ‘Beyond 60 days, we’re gonna give you free coverage’ … Absolutely not. Because it makes the situation worse for Medicaid.”

Vos also spoke about medical marijuana, which he has repeatedly said he supports in some circumstances, but not as a pathway to full recreational legalization. At the luncheon, he said a handful of Republicans have been working to craft a proposal that would be “unique to Wisconsin, which would hopefully give people who are in an awful situation, the relief that medicinal marijuana could employ, but not lead to recreational marijuana.”

That proposal could be brought forward “later in the summer,” he said.

Evers has called for legalizing both medicinal and recreational marijuana. He said that he would sign a standalone medical marijuana bill if the Legislature brings him one.

The state’s Republican budget writing committee is scheduled to vote on many health-related items on Thursday, including public health insurance programs. They have already removed Evers’ proposed Medicaid expansion and marijuana legalization from consideration.

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