The Special Session that wasn’t: Last week, Governor Tony Evers signed Executive Order #116, calling a special session of the Legislature. The purpose was to expand BadgerCare under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and invest the estimated $1.6 billion in realized cost savings into projects and economic development initiatives across the state. The proposed new funding included health care proposals related to mental health, maternal mortality, community health workers, and health care operations. As had been the case in previous special sessions called by Governor Evers for police reform, gun control and unemployment, the Republican-controlled legislature announced its intentions to immediately gavel out of the session with no discussion on Medicaid expansion. This happened on Tuesday when the special session ended on a voice vote in less than 30 seconds.
State budget process: The Legislature continues its work in finalizing the 2021-2023 biennial state budget. We are happy to report that Joint Finance Committee removed non-fiscal policy from the budget proposal including burdensome hospital balance billing and 340B drug pricing provisions. Removal of these provisions were in large part due to the advocacy efforts by the Wisconsin Hospital Association. As the largest birthing center in the state, Meriter also closely follows maternal health issues. UW Health and Meriter joined with other organizations in a letter urging the Joint Finance Committee to extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum women for an additional 10-month period. As reported last month, Meriter also supports the maintenance of Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) funding and advocacy continues on that front. With July 1 as the target date for finalizing the state budget, the June Government and External Affairs Newsletter should have more details.
DHS Office of Health Equity created: Spearheaded in part by vast differences in COVID-19 risk and outcomes, particularly for people of color, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has established an Office of Health Equity. This office will be charged with:
- Implementing strategies to build an infrastructure and culture committed to equity and inclusion.
- Providing statewide leadership for policy measures to improve the health of vulnerable populations.
- Assuring coordination of efforts to reduce health disparities.
- Minimizing impacts of health disparities in our communities by evaluating and proposing changes to DHS policies and budget.
- Creating an extensive network of community and agency partners, both formal and informal.
- Providing data analysis to help leadership and program staff make data informed decisions on policy areas.
COVID-19 Response: Some recent developments are below:
- On May 14th, the Department of Health Services announced that the CDC released updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without masks. There are exceptions, including the continuation of mask wearing regardless of vaccination status in health care settings.
- On May 12th, Wisconsin began offering COVID-19 vaccinations to children ages 12-15
- On May 4th, the Department of Health Services announced that it is helping employers and community-based organizations connect with vaccine providers to offer on-site vaccinations.
For more information on State of Wisconsin advocacy, legislative, policy and regulatory issues of impact to UnityPoint Health, please contact Cathy Simmons, executive director of government & external affairs for UnityPoint Health.