US rejects Wisconsin's drug-testing plan for Medicaid

Nov. 1, 2018

MADISON President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday rejected a plan from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to require drug screening and testing for adults on Medicaid with no dependent children, but approved a wide array of other get-tough changes to the program.

Walker, who is seeking a third term in Tuesday's election, argued the changes would better prepare Medicaid recipients to get a job. Walker's administration agreed to revise the drug-testing plan amid concerns identified by the federal government and commenters, Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a letter to the state.

Democrats in the Legislature opposed the Medicaid changes but didn't have the votes to stop them. Wisconsin needed federal approval because the U.S. government helps pay for the health care program for the poor and disabled.

The plan approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services calls for childless adult BadgerCare applicants to complete a health risk assessment. Those with a substance abuse problem would then be referred for treatment, though they would not be kicked off the program if they don't complete it.

Many critics of the drug-testing plan had argued it would be stricken down in court if enacted. Fourteen other states have some type of drug screening or test as part of their public benefits programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin was seeking to become the first to require it as a condition of eligibility for the Medicaid program.

Walker's spokeswoman Amy Hasenburg, when asked for reaction to the rejection of the drug test provision, called the overall plan "a huge step forward in helping people on government assistance move from dependence to true independence."

Approval of the changes come as Walker is in a tight race against Democrat Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent. Evers' campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"We want to remove barriers to work and make it easier to get a job, while making sure public assistance is available for those who truly need it," Walker said in a statement.

Wisconsin will be allowed to kick people off Medicaid after four years if they aren't working, training for a job or participating in certain other activities. The four-year limit would not be continuous and the person could re-apply for benefits after six months.

Medicaid recipients also will be required to pay a new $8 monthly premium as well as a $8 co-pay for emergency room visits that do not involve an actual emergency.

The changes, approved by the Legislature in 2015, aren't expected to be fully implemented for at least another year.

Grothman hoping any blue wave bypasses usually safe district

U.S. Representative Glenn Grothman adjusts his collar during a campaign stop at the GOP headquarters, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in Sheboygan, Wis. Grothman and Eric Trump were in Sheboygan to rally support for Wisconsin Republicans.

MARKESAN, Wis.  Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman hasn't lost a race in 24 years in politics and his district has voted for a Democrat only once since the 1960s.

Any other year, another Grothman victory would be nearly certain. But with the specter of a so-called blue wave of heavy Democratic turnout, Republicans aren't taking it for granted even in a district President Donald Trump carried by 17 points in 2016.

Grothman's challenger, Dan Kohl, is banking on timing being on his side.

"We live in a different moment in our nation's history right now," said Kohl, 53.

Grothman, 63, a staunchly conservative former attorney, has said he's in the toughest race of his career. He knows midterms are historically unkind to the party that holds the White House.

"You have to look at that and worry about that," said Grothman, who served in the Wisconsin Assembly and the state Senate before being elected to Congress in 2014.

Although timing could help Kohl, he's still campaigning in a deeply conservative area of the state. The last time a Democrat held the 6th District which spans 10 counties north and west of Milwaukee was in 1964. It was only for one term.

Mordecai Lee, a Democratic former state lawmaker and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said it would take more than a blue wave to carry Kohl to victory.

"It would have to be a tsunami," he said.

Kohl is a nephew of former Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, a philanthropist and former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. The younger Kohl managed the Bucks' salary cap for a period during his uncle's ownership. He previously helped raise money for Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama but has never held elected office himself, having lost a bid for the Wisconsin Assembly 10 years ago.

Two issues Kohl is hoping will resonate with voters and bring them to his side are health care and the Republicans' tax package passed late last year. He's made both topics part of the stump speech he gives at different events, telling voters the country's wealthiest are the real beneficiaries of the new tax law, and warning that people with pre-existing conditions will lose coverage if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act. Grothman says he supports health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

"All I can tell you is people are very concerned about the direction of our country," said Kohl, moments after speaking at a luncheon in Oshkosh with retirees from an autoworkers union.

Half of Wisconsin voters disapprove of President Donald Trump, according to a late October Marquette University Law School poll. But given the makeup of Grothman's district, he doesn't have to shy away from supporting the president.

Speaking to a group at an assisted living facility in Markesan in early October, Grothman told residents the economy is "the best in our lifetime." He said Trump doesn't get enough credit because the media doesn't like him, though he acknowledged Trump's tweets "can get a little bit immature."

The Republican tax package will be good for the economy, he tells residents, and he supports the president's idea of a border wall, saying that "while we love immigrants," the U.S. "can't just open the border to everybody under the sun because America would be done."

Antoinette Jansen, 57, vice president of the Suburban Republican Women's Club of Milwaukee, said she likes Grotham's accessibility. A few months ago, she got a call from a number she didn't recognize.

"I just picked it up and he said, 'Oh hi, this is Glenn.' And I thought it was our neighbor complaining about something," Jansen recalled.

Instead, Grothman wanted Jansen's thoughts on his job performance.

"It wasn't one of these calls, 'Will you give me money?'" Jansen said. "It was, 'How am I doing?'"


Associated Press