A bipartisan panel of the Wisconsin State Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee (JFC) joined WHA’s 2022 virtual Advocacy Day for a discussion of this session’s top legislative issues that impacted health care. Lawmakers discussed the enactment of the last biennial budget, which made Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) funding permanent, as well as workforce and insurance-related challenges.
Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) credited his GOP colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee for writing a budget that put Wisconsin in the best position for health care and credited WHA and its members for voicing their support for the budget given its inclusion of the permanent increase for DSH payments.
“It goes back to advocacy,” said Kurtz. “To make the DSH payments a permanent line item in the budget was a huge reason why you and your members went to the governor and said this was something we support, we need,” said Kurtz, discussing the budget passed by Republicans in the Legislature and Gov. Evers’ decision to veto the budget or sign it into law.
Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said Gov. Evers deserves credit for coming up with a budget that set a benchmark that included key priorities for both parties, giving Republicans a target for developing their own budget.
“I don’t believe my Republican colleagues had their budget crafted before they saw Governor Evers’ budget; I believe they responded to his budget. So, in that sense, Governor Evers set the mark,” said Goyke. He also said Evers deserved credit for ultimately signing the budget that went through the Legislature.
The discussion then shifted to the health care workforce shortage and whether one of the challenges was people sitting on the sidelines unwilling to work. Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) said she doesn’t think the problem is people sitting on the sidelines so much as it is a demographics issue.
“We have to remember, for every three people who retire, we only have one person to take their place,” said Johnson. She said the pandemic really highlighted the importance of health care and noted she supports programs like loan forgiveness, funding for more nurse educators and other strategies that create a pipeline to fill the void.
Sen. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) said she thinks Wisconsin needs to streamline regulations and provide more flexibility, noting that she heard from a constituent recently complaining about state licensure barriers. “I had a local gentleman talk to me last weekend who had a daughter that could not get her RN license done online, and so she got a license in Arizona instead,” said Ballweg. She said she supports efforts to streamline licensure and increase the use of telehealth.
Rep. Kurtz said he’s also heard about workforce concerns from constituents, including some who have shifted careers during the pandemic. He relayed the stories of emergency room and operating room nurses who recently became CDL truck drivers and dispatchers. “These people, they got burnt out, and they literally had a change of career,” said Kurtz. He said he’s also heard from retirees who left the workforce because they were looking at their 401ks and pensions and decided now was the right time. He thinks legislators are grappling with what incentives they can provide to get these folks back into the workforce.
WHA Senior Vice President of Government Relations Kyle O’Brien, who moderated the panel, said that the health care workforce discussion was a great reminder of the proactive work the Legislature has done to partner with WHA and its members to create better educational pathways as well as the successful graduate medical education grant programs the Legislature has funded.
In addition to these issues, the panel also discussed several proposed bills this session that address insurer practices impacting care delivery and access to patient care. Rep. Kurtz highlighted how proud he was to work with WHA on Koreen’s Law, legislation to restrict the practice of insurer-mandated “white bagging.” He said it was important to educate his colleagues who were not aware of the difficulties this practice was causing for patients, which leads patients to spend hours on the phone to get special authorization for life-saving medications.
Rep. Goyke agreed that this was an important issue. He said he looks forward to working on it more next session, noting that it faced opposition from the insurance industry. He described the practice by insurers as creating a nightmare for many patients. “What was missing from their side was one story from one patient that benefitted from this practice,” said Goyke.