February 22, 2016

BadgerCare Updates: Recent Enrollment Trends and New Eligibility Tables

BadgerCare participation grew modestly over the last couple of months, but less than I had hoped it would. During the 2014-15 open enrollment period for the federal Marketplace, there was a very substantial increase in BadgerCare enrollment (about a 4% rise from November 2014 to March 2015). Based on preliminary data, the increase in the latest open enrollment period has been disappointing by comparison.

There can be some lag time in new BadgerCare sign-ups, so the February data might show an upturn this month from people who applied a little before the January 31 closure of the open enrollment period.  That said, the following figures show that the early numbers don’t reflect a robust increase in BadgerCare coverage:

  • Enrollment grew by about 3,000 from November to January, an increase of less than 0.4%.
  • That 2-month period of modest growth doesn’t fully offset a decline of more than 3,600 from October to November.
  • Almost all of the increase since November (93%) was among childless adults, whose participation in BadgerCare bounced back a little after a drop of more than 14,000 from March through November.
  • Despite a little growth in kids’ enrollment in December and January, there were about 1,150 fewer children in BadgerCare in January than in October of last year. 

Taking a broader look at the data, keep in mind that the number of children and parents in BadgerCare dropped by about 8,400 from March to November 2014, which most likely reflects a gradual improvement in the economy. Against that trend line, the spillover effect from the Marketplace open enrollment has probably offset the declining participation of children and parents in BadgerCare, while also causing a bump in enrollment of childless adults.

In some past years, there has been an increase in BadgerCare enrollment early in the year, which I suspect resulted to some degree from the annual adjustment of the federal poverty level, which boosts the income eligibility limits for public benefits. That won’t be much of a factor this year because the poverty level was only adjusted upwards by 0.3%.

WCCF has incorporated the 2016 poverty levels into an updated infographic showing the income ranges to be eligible for BadgerCare and Marketplace insurance subsidies. That document is available on our website in both English and Spanish.

We have updated on the Wisconsin Budget Project website several tables showing the new poverty levels and how they relate to eligibility for various public benefits. In addition to showing the annual income figures, the tables convert those into monthly and hourly income.

In a recent Budget Project blog post, I examined some of the implications of those figures. For example, the current BadgerCare income limit for a single parent with one child amounts to just $7.70 per hour (assuming a 40-hour work week). In other words, an adult in a two-person family will be ineligible for BadgerCare if they make just 50 cents per hour more than the minimum wage. The income limit for an adult in a two-person family would increase to $10.63 per hour if Wisconsin takes advantage of the opportunity to capture federal funding by raising the income ceiling to 138% of the poverty level.

Read more in the Budget Project blog post.

Jon Peacock