Rep. Deb Kolste: A Bipartisan Health Care Champion Retires

February 27, 2020

Representative Deb Kolste, ranking member of the Assembly Health Committee and 2016 WHA Advocate of the Year, announced her retirement from the state Legislature last week. Deb’s personal experiences as a medical technologist, clinic manager and hospital volunteer, along with her husband’s experience treating patients and training family physicians, made it easy for Deb to understand WHA’s position on issues and naturally made her a strong partner for WHA.

“Representative Kolste is a well-respected member of the state Legislature and has been an unwavering partner for WHA to achieve sound public policy that protects high-quality health care in Wisconsin,” said WHA Senior Vice President, Government Relations Kyle O’Brien. “Rarely, if ever, did Deb allow partisan lines to separate her from supporting good health care policy. She supported Republican and Democratic ideas, sometimes as the lone Democrat, because she knew that it was the right thing to do.”

Kolste was a co-lead author of a package of rural health care legislation in 2017, including a bill to provide advanced practice clinician training grants for hospitals in rural communities. That bill was eventually incorporated into the 2017-2019 state budget and has already provided 18 rural hospitals throughout the state with training grants to expand provider capacity and improve care.

In addition, Kolste authored and/or sponsored legislation to create the state’s inpatient psychiatric bed tracker, modernize Wisconsin’s hospital discharge data program, provide funding to support hospital-based care coordination programs, expand graduate medical education, clarify Wisconsin law for providers to give patients prompt-pay discounts, enact the enhanced Nurse Licensure and Interstate Medical Licensure Compacts, and was a lead Democratic advocate for the Heroin, Opioid, Prevention and Education (HOPE) agenda. In 2013, Kolste was also one of eight members of the minority party to support critical legislation to protect Wisconsin’s balanced medical liability environment by establishing a clear informed consent obligation for physicians in state law.

This strong support for hospitals resulted in Kolste receiving the distinguished WHA Health Care Advocate of the Year Award in front of a crowd of over 1,000 people at WHA’s Annual Advocacy Day in 2016, presented to her by Kerry Swanson, now chief operations officer at SSM Health. Kolste’s time advocating for hospitals started long before she stepped on that stage to receive her award.

“I’m so proud to be here, but mostly because I am part of you. I spent five decades working in and with hospitals,” said Kolste during her acceptance speech.

“Being in the minority party in the Legislature, I’ve had great success and I’m very proud of that. Good health care policy should be bipartisan,” she continued. “It’s with the help of the Wisconsin Hospital Association that we’ve had such success this year. So, I want to thank the Wisconsin Hospital Association for all you’ve done.”

Early in 2019, WHA approached Kolste, along with Republican State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), to lead the Assembly version of significant Medicaid telehealth reform legislation in Wisconsin. As technology advanced, Wisconsin’s existing statutes had become a barrier for health care providers who wanted to expand access to care through telehealth technology.

Deb was intimately involved in the negotiations on this legislation, serving as an important conduit between parties and sometimes having to push back against proposals that would derail the legislation. Only a few weeks after passing the Assembly with broad, bipartisan support, the legislation was signed into law by Governor Tony Evers.

Kolste’s retirement from the state Legislature will occur at the end of this current term. Her warm smile, sound reasoning and intimate knowledge of health care will be greatly missed by the WHA government relations team and by her colleagues in the state capitol.


This story originally appeared in the February 27, 2020 edition of WHA Newsletter