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WHA Outlines Key Priorities to Lawmakers for COVID-19 Legislation

April 09, 2020

WHA released a memo to the Wisconsin State Legislature on April 7, reacting to Governor Tony Evers’ recent COVID-19 proposals. The memo was timely, as the Legislature is preparing to call itself into extraordinary session in order to take up pandemic-related legislation of its own, likely early next week.
“In any legislation taken up by the Assembly and the Senate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring Wisconsin hospitals have the resources to continue operations should be the state’s top priority,” reads the memo, which was authored by WHA’s President and CEO Eric Borgerding and Senior Vice President of Government Relations Kyle O’Brien. WHA shared support for some of Gov. Evers’ proposals while suggesting modifications to others. Areas of feedback include:
Resources for PPE, Testing Supplies and Other Hospital Related Costs
Hospitals not only continue to face a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), but prices for PPE have increased. Hospitals also face shortages in testing supplies needed to identify COVID-19 patients, and are struggling with ongoing staffing costs. The memo requests that any legislative proposal include funding that can directly help hospitals with these necessary equipment and staffing resources.  
Hospital Funding and Stability
Federal directives from the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have caused hospitals to cancel elective procedures, resulting in significant hospital revenue losses in Wisconsin: about $170 million per week. These measures are being required to conserve personal protective equipment and ensure hospital bed capacity for a potential surge of patients with the novel coronavirus. When adding health system physician and clinic services to that ledger, WHA’s estimate for weekly revenue lost grows to $266 million. This is creating significant cash flow challenges for hospitals and systems, leading to workforce reductions that also means less access to care at exactly the wrong time.
Significant questions about the amount, timing and distribution of federal funding coming to Wisconsin makes state action in this area even more urgent. The memo lauds Gov. Evers’ proposal to include $75 million in supplemental hospital payments to help cover significant hospital losses.
Hospital and Other Health Care Data
WHA has consistently supported expanding the collection and reporting of COVID-19 data. The memo notes the long-standing expertise of the respected WHA Information Center (WHAIC), and suggests that WHAIC could be a valuable resource in producing additional COVID-19 data that can help policymakers in future decision-making related to the pandemic. Following publication of this legislative memo, the WHAIC released a COVID-19 Situational Awareness Update dashboard to the general public. (See related story.)
Liability, Worker’s Compensation Coverage for COVID-19 Exposure
The memo notes that many states have already granted liability protections for health care providers during a public health emergency and suggests Wisconsin should follow suit. It also points out a challenging aspect of current worker’s compensation law in Wisconsin, which can be interpreted to require that in order for a health care worker to qualify for worker’s compensation coverage due to virus exposure, the worker must prove that the exposure occurred at work. The memo gives support to Governor Evers’ second legislative proposal which appears to create an appropriate worker’s compensation presumption standard.

This story originally appeared in the April 09, 2020 edition of WHA Newsletter