Legislator Profile: State Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield)

November 14, 2019

District: 5th Senate District – elected in 2018. Previously served as Representative for State Assembly’s 14th District (2010-18)
Personal: Born Oak Lawn, IL, Feb. 12, 1979; married (Jennifer); four children. Iraq War veteran.

Wisconsin State Senator Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) has a sniff test for when someone in the Capitol is pretending they know more than they do.

“I always say that with people in the building, someone’s lying if they say they know everything about the school funding formula and how Medicaid works,” says the firstterm senator. “I think that would be a sign of a disingenuous person if they claim to know every intricacy of those two formulas.”

Kooyenga includes himself in that group even though he’s probably one of the legislators most likely to understand the arcane nature of government funding and accounting. Kooyenga is a certified public accountant, having obtained his MBA from Marquette University in 2007. Part of the State Legislature’s self-proclaimed “CPA caucus,” Kooyenga is often a go-to source for numbers-crunching – during his time in the State Assembly he served as the Assembly vice chair on the powerful Joint Committee on Finance. Among his current Senate committee assignments is serving as vice chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, so his focus has been able to turn to important health care issues such as adequate Medicaid reimbursement.

“The way I look at it is like a water balloon,” Kooyenga said about Medicaid funding. “If we continue to have more and more people on Medicaid and that’s paying lesser rates [to providers], that’s going to push the balloon to where those on commercial insurance are going to pay more. So if you’re going to see more and more people at the least reimbursement rates, essentially it’s a hidden tax on those who are paying commercial insurance rates.

“That’s squeezing people that are in the middle class,” Kooyenga continued. “So I’d rather see an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates to providers to at least cover their costs.”

While government has the potential to do more in the health care financing space, Kooyenga warns that government intrusions into other areas of health care don’t necessarily result in improvements.

“I think when government’s made a huge, huge move into health care it’s really led to a lot of disruption – and not positive disruption,” Kooyenga said. “There are some people who think that more government is the answer to every single problem, but if you look at the two industries with the highest-rising costs it’s been higher education and health care: the places where Madison and Washington, D.C. have inserted themselves the most over the past 20 to 30 years. And that has led to higher and higher costs to our middle class.”

That’s why Kooyenga has been happy to cosponsor legislation this session that aims to solve problems created by current state law and regulations that aren’t incentivizing the utilization of current technology, such as telehealth. Kooyenga is the senate lead author of Senate Bill 380, which updates the state’s telehealth rules and statutes to make telehealth services more available to Medicaid patients.

“To me it’s just the opportunity we’ve already seen in the private sector for more efficiency and productivity,” Kooyenga said about SB 380, which is awaiting final action by Gov. Tony Evers. “That’s one of the ways we can actually lower costs and increase access.

“Telemedicine on its own is not the answer,” Kooyenga said, pointing out how the personal touch is so important between a patient and the health care professional. “But it does offer the technology that allows you to augment that care – maybe you see a patient quarterly in person, but you could see them monthly though a Facetime conversation,” if that’s what the patient and health care provider desire.

Kooyenga’s understanding of medicine being an art and a science needing that human touch is reinforced through two important life influencers: his time in the U.S. Army (he and his two brothers all enlisted after 9/11 and he served in Iraq in 2008, earning a Bronze Star), and through his wife, Jennifer, who will graduate from a nursing program next month and will start working full-time at a local hospital in January 2020.

“I think that from her level of nursing as of right now I don’t get a lot of big public policy, reimbursement or regulatory issues – it’s just a reminder of the human aspect of health care and the real problems we have. A lot of it is not actually a public policy problem,” Kooyenga said, referencing experiences Jennifer has shared with him when she comes home from work. “It’s a larger commentary on so many people without meaningful relationships – so many people who don’t have families.”

His experience in Iraq cemented his belief of health care’s role in a community.

“One of our main objectives was to secure the populace,” Kooyenga said about his experience in Baghdad. “We understood that we would lose the support of the people if we did not make it a priority to provide health care services, so we did just that. We worked with international partners and took the physicians and nurses from the bases to the general population to help serve in the community.

“Want to win a mother’s heart? Nurse her sick child back to health,” Kooyenga said. “There are many stories on this front, but in short: access to health care is a critical component of ensuring a community can thrive.”

Kooyenga also reassured those looking at his biography – specifically being born and raised in south Chicago – that the time he’s spent north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border has helped dissuade him from becoming a fan of the Chicago Bears.

“No, I’m not” Kooyenga said with a laugh when asked if he supported the NFC North’s third-place team. “I am 40 years old, have lived in Wisconsin for 20 years and I am a cheese curd-muchin’, Green Bay Packer-cheerin’, Miller Lite-drinkin’ man.”

The WHA Legislator Profile is an occasional series by Valued Voice editor Mark Grapentine.

This story originally appeared in the November 14, 2019 edition of WHA Newsletter