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By Dave Umhoefer October 25, 2010

Scott Walker wants to kick 350,000 families off BadgerCare, Greater Wisconsin Political Fund says

In his quest for the Republican nomination for governor, Scott Walker offered a consistent answer when asked for examples of how he would cut taxes and trim the state budget.

His answer: Start by limiting the time Wisconsinites can stay on BadgerCare Plus, the state health care program

At least, that was the answer up until a few weeks before Walker trounced Mark Neumann in the Sept. 14, 2010 primary. In a new campaign ad, the liberal Greater Wisconsin Political Fund is aiming to make Walker pay for his earlier position.

In the ad, as an iPhone replica flashes onto the screen, a narrator asks: "Don’t you wish there was an app that told you when politicians were lying?" Then a knockoff of PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter fills the screen, as Walker is rated on three sound bites.

(Sure, imitation is a form of flattery. But we’re in real danger of being over-flattered this election.)

"I support BadgerCare," Walker says in one of the three. The needle jumps to False as the narrator snarls: "Fact, Walker favors cutting up to 350,000 families and children off health care."

We’ll look at the 350,000 charge, not Walker’s pronouncement of support.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee made the same claim in an ad that started Sept. 2. The group is a political action committee that gets big money from organized labor, the Democratic Governors’ Association and at least $1 million from outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle’s soon-to-be defunct campaign fund.

Needless to say, the group is backing Democrat Tom Barrett as Doyle’s replacement.

So, does Scott Walker support tossing hundreds of thousands of people off BadgerCare?

The answer would have been easier -- and the group’s charge more accurate -- a few months ago.

First, a little about BadgerCare. The program, targeted to the working poor and low-income unemployed, provides health insurance coverage to children, pregnant women, parents and childless adults. Its rolls have swelled dramatically -- to 767,910 in September 2010 -- due to eligibility expansions and the fallout of the recession. Walker voted for the program when he served in the state Assembly.

After a late-August primary debate with Neumann, in which Walker reiterated his support for time limits, Walker backed off that position.

Walker told the Journal Sentinel’s Patrick Marley the next day that he had "misspoke" in saying he endorsed BadgerCare time limits -- he said he meant time limits on W-2, the state’s welfare-to-work program. The Journal Sentinel reported that story on page 1 on Aug. 27, 2010.

To back up its claim that "up to 350,000 families and children" would lose coverage, the Greater Wisconsin Committee cites a lengthy Appleton Post-Crescent interview of Walker from June 2010  -- and several other public statements. It also points to state BadgerCare data -- provided by the state to us for this item --  showing more than 350,000 individuals now on BadgerCare have stayed longer than the 24 months Walker has discussed.

That’s fine, but Walker’s position on it clearly has changed -- even if the group’s charge has not.

So, let’s dig in again.

PolitiFact Wisconsin listened to hours of Walker media interviews and concluded that over 11 months he unequivocally endorsed time limits in response to BadgerCare questions time and again. In the Appleton interview in June he suggested a 24-month limit.

But since the late August debate, Walker instead has emphasized possible tighter income rules and sounds open to dropping low-income childless adults from the program. That group was just added to the program in 2009; there are more than 50,000 enrolled.

In addition, Walker has made vague statements about getting back to the "original intent" of BadgerCare, which he defines as for the "truly needy like the disabled, children from low-income families and low-income single parents." Walker says the state’s exploding Medicaid population has put BadgerCare in a financial crisis.

The new, mushier position makes quantifying the true impact of Walker’s position very difficult.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee says the language in its ad is still supported by the facts. Of course, with the "up to" qualifier, that leaves an awful lot of room.

Some numbers:

  • If you tighten up recent changes that made it easier to qualify, you would knock 68,000 people off the program, according to calculations by Jon Peacock, a researcher who studies state welfare issues at the liberal Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.
  • If you go back to pre-2008, before Doyle consolidated several programs into BadgerCare and made other changes, there were 267,000 fewer people on the program than today.
  • There are 400,000 people in working families on BadgerCare.

Walker objects to BadgerCare insurance being a permanent entitlement.

Does that mean he objects to people continuing in the program once they get a job? His campaign declined to be specific beyond saying Walker thinks it ought to cover the truly needy like the disabled, children from low-income families and low-income single parents.

The numbers above include a lot of children. That may not be fair, given that Walker said in the Post-Crescent interview that he wants to "make sure kids are covered." But it is unclear if Walker means all children currently eligible  or just those of unemployed parents.

A lot of questions and few answers.

Peacock said it best: "I think it’s very hard to quantify how much Walker might affect BadgerCare participation – partly because his statements have either been vague or fluid, and partly because it sounds like he might reduce eligibility below the level initially recommended by Governor Thompson."

The target may be moving, but the Truth-O-Meter has to stop somewhere.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee charges that Walker’s original position could move as many as 350,000 people -- or fewer -- off BadgerCare. Their claim rested primarily on the time limits that Walker supported for almost a year but then backed away from just days before Greater Wisconsin’s first ad in September.

Walker changed course to a muddier position, while Greater Wisconsin has continued to cite the number. It adds an important qualifier though -- "up to" 350,000. Walker’s new position, while unclear, still focuses on reining in BadgerCare enrollment -- whether it’s the 68,000 or some other number remains to be seen. We rate the statement Half True.

Our Sources

Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, TV ad, Oct. 8, 2010

Appleton Post-Crescent, Q&A story with Scott Walker and video, June 15-16, 2010

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker errs on health care facts in debate, Aug. 27, 2010

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, GOP hopefuls target health care for poor, Aug. 26, 2010

Channel, Gubernatorial Candidate Says BadgerCare Needs Overhaul, Oct. 9, 2009

Scott Walker interview, Mike Gousha’s On the Issues, March 11, 2010

E-mail interview, Jill Bader, Walker campaign spokespwoman, Oct. 19, 2010

E-mail interview, Scot Ross, executive director, One Wisconsin Now, Oct. 20, 2010

E-mail and phone interview, Michelle McGrorty, executive director, Greater Wisconsin Committee, Oct. 21 and 22, 2010

E-mail interviews, Stephanie Smiley and Seth Boffeli, Wisconsin Department Health Services, Oct. 21, 2010

E-mail interview, Phil Walzak, Barrett campaign spokesman, Oct. 21, 2010

Wisconsin Department of Health Services, BadgerCare homepage

Wisconsin Department of Health Services, BadgerCare facts

Interview with Jon Peacock, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, Oct. 21, 2010

Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Informational Paper 44, January 2009

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Dave Umhoefer

Scott Walker wants to kick 350,000 families off BadgerCare, Greater Wisconsin Political Fund says

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