Legislature Kicks Off Session With Health Care Debate

Wisconsin State Capitol

Author: Will Kenneally

The Wisconsin Assembly passed legislation with bipartisan support to extend state-level pre-existing condition protections for those seeking health insurance in the state. The legislation would keep one of the more popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act if the federal law is repealed or found unconstitutional.

This is the second time the legislature has taken up pre-existing condition legislation in recent months. A similar bill failed in the state Senate during last December’s extraordinary legislative session. It is unclear whether the bill will pass the Senate this time, or whether the new Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will sign it.

Evers has indicated that he wants more of the Affordable Care Act’s protections in the Wisconsin bill, including coverage for essential benefits and eliminating lifetime caps on coverage.

“The ACA also requires insurance plans to cover essential health benefits,” Evers said, “so I’ve also asked for AB 1 to cover critical services like care for moms and newborns before and after birth and prescription drug costs.”

A spokesperson for the governor also wrote that Evers “doesn’t support Republican efforts to enshrine into state law lesser benefits for fewer Wisconsinites.”

The bill received support from both sides of the Assembly aisle, with 16 Democrats joining Republicans in support of the bill. Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, criticized the bill, yet voted for it.

“While the ACA is the law of the land, passing measures like this may sound good. But it is pure deception,” Hintz said in a statement. “The best way to protect coverage for pre-existing conditions is to maintain and improve the Affordable Care Act.”

At the same time state Republicans work to extend state-level protections for pre-existing conditions, Wisconsin is a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act–a move pushed by former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel. Evers called on the current Democratic AG Josh Kaul to remove the state as a plaintiff in the State of the State address that followed the vote.

It is unclear however, if Kaul would be able to, as per the restrictions placed upon the attorney general during the December session, Kaul would have to receive approval from the Republican-led state legislature before removing the state as a plaintiff.

Kaul told reporters after the speech that he intends to “act consistently with the law.”

The bill now heads with an uncertain future to the state Senate. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he has had “good conversations” with members of the Senate, despite last year’s failure to pass the measure. The Associated Press reports that Senate Republicans may discuss the legislation as early as next week.