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Gov. Walker says state will comply with new healthcare law where required to

MADISON - Governor Scott Walker assured the federal government today that Wisconsin will comply with the Obama health law where it's required. But he said there might be hidden costs if the state sets up its own health insurance purchasing exchange - something Walker said the state would not do.

The federal health reform law requires all states to have an exchange, in order to give low-income workers and small businesses a choice of affordable coverage. States that don't set up their own plans will get a federal template. Walker told U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebellius that the state will not have meaningful control either way. And had he chose the state option, Walker said Wisconsin taxpayers might have gotten stuck with paying for a federal mandate that lacks long-term guaranteed funding.

Democrats, health advocates, and business groups all wanted the governor to allow the state to set up its own exchange. But a spokesman for the state Insurance Commissioner's office said it would have been up to the state to come up with the money to run the exchange - and with all the staff that Washington demands, the costs might have been significant. Wisconsin is among 15 states that won't set up their own exchange. Twenty-three states will, along with Washington D.C. Twelve remain undecided, as a federal deadline has been pushed back to December 14th.

Reaction to the governor's decision came swiftly yesterday. Robert Kraig of Wisconsin Citizen Action said Governor Scott Walker caved in to Tea Party conservatives to keep getting their support. And Kraig said it's astounding that quote, "Walker is putting the demands of ideological extremists over the interests of health care consumers across Wisconsin." Democratic U.S. Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin said she offered to work with Walker to quote, "advance health care reforms that work for Wisconsin." Instead, Baldwin said Walker chose to quote, "pass the buck and reject the opportunity to take ownership of this issue."

Walker said he would have liked to have taken that ownership. But he said this morning that the state would not have enough control to set up a truly free-market exchange. He wouldn't explain why. Republican legislative finance co-chair Alberta Darling says it's still not known how the federal reform law will affect the states. And therefore, Darling said it's quote, "irresponsible to commit our state to a program that isn't fully defined yet." The state's largest business group, the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce, called on Walker to let the state set up its own marketplace of affordable health plans. But late yesterday, WMC president Kurt Bauer said Walker makes a good case for not doing so.

The insurance exchanges are one of two main parts of the health law that states can control. The other would expand Medicaid, but Walker wouldn't say today what he'd do about that.