Sen. Luther Olsen: Long-Time Lawmaker, WHA Advocate of the Year Retires

February 27, 2020

A member of the Wisconsin State Legislature for over a quarter-century, state Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) has decided to retire. Olsen, a 2011 WHA Advocate of the Year and champion for Wisconsin hospitals, has served on the state’s powerful Joint Committee on Finance since 2005 and has served in the role of vice-chair since 2011. In fact, Olsen is one of the longest serving members in the Joint Finance Committee’s history, dating back to 1911 when the Committee was first created.

“For many years, Luther has been a tremendous leader and advocate for Wisconsin health care, especially rural health care, and an unwavering ally of WHA,” said WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding. “We are losing one of the best of the best from the Legislature.”

“Luther will be sorely missed, but we are very proud of what we accomplished together and privileged to have been his partner on so many issues over so many years,” Borgerding said. “We wish Senator Olsen and his family all the best.”

Olsen received the 2011 WHA Advocate of the Year award because of his commitment to rural hospitals, as he was instrumental in passing the 2010 Rural Healthcare Access Act. The legislation was a chief priority of WHA to avoid a 10% acrossthe-board cut to rural hospital reimbursement and create new state support for rural physician education through what became known as the Wisconsin Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program (WRPRAP) and Rural Physician Loan Assistance program. Since 2010, WRPRAP has supported the creation of eight rural residency programs and supported 14 existing rural residency programs.

Olsen sponsored or supported countless WHA priorities, including legislation reinstating Wisconsin’s medical malpractice non-economic damages cap – a critical decision for the future of Wisconsin and the ability to retain and recruit more physicians to practice in Wisconsin. As recently as this week, WHA staff and WHA Board Chair-elect John Russell were meeting with Olsen in the state capitol about 2019 Senate Bill 763, legislation to clarify state law regarding prompt-pay discounts for patients who timely pay their health insurance cost-sharing obligations. As always, Olsen quickly translated how the legislation would directly benefit patients and their families and showed his support for the bill.

In the most recent state budget, Olsen was one of the strongest Senate proponents of funding for hospitals through the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program. His leadership, along with a handful of other key lawmakers, resulted in a 73% increase in funding for the Medicaid DSH program and the largest total funding increase since the program’s inception.

The connection Olsen had with hospital leaders in his district, along with his longtime service on the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority Board, provided him with a personal comprehension of the funding, workforce and regulatory challenges that hospitals face and the ability to clearly see how legislation could positively or negatively impact hospitals and their patients.

This personal experience, along with his common-sense, bipartisan approach to policymaking, made him an advocate for hospitals in many more years than just 2011. The WHA team and our members are grateful for the strong and productive relationship we’ve had with Olsen during his decades of service to the people and patients of Wisconsin.


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