Earlier this month, the GOP-controlled state Assembly passed a nearly $3 billion state income tax cut proposal that would drop income tax rates from 5.3% to 4.4% for individual filers with incomes between $27,630 and $304,170 and deliver the same tax relief for married couples with incomes between $18,420 and $405,550. The legislation would also exclude the first $150,000 of a couple’s retirement income from state income taxes. The provision would apply to residents over the age of 67.
Gov. Tony Evers has promised to veto the legislation, saying it would jeopardize priorities such as public schools, child care, and public safety. On the flip side of the debate, Assembly Republicans said the measure, which passed on a partisan vote, will help fight inflation, encourage retires to stay in Wisconsin, and give a large portion of the state’s $4 billion surplus back to taxpayers.
The bill is currently under further consideration in the Senate.
The Republican-controlled state Assembly recently passed a redistricting reform plan to completely overhaul how legislative district maps are drawn in Wisconsin. Under the proposal, which is based on the model used in Iowa, a nonpartisan committee would draw the legislative maps. The maps drawn by committee would be subject to approval by the state Legislature.
Gov. Tony Evers roundly criticized the proposal, saying it was essentially election interference by the GOP and strongly inferred he would veto the measure if it made it to his desk. Assembly Republicans praised the legislation as not only the fairest approach to redistricting for citizens, but also a plan that would avoid costly political and legal battles.
Recent polling has shown that a large majority of Wisconsin residents would prefer legislative district maps be drawn by a nonpartisan commission rather than elected officials.
The proposal, which passed the Assembly on a largely partisan vote with one Democrat voting for the measure, is awaiting further action in the Senate.
On August 31, Governor Tony Evers and the state Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) unveiled a new online dashboard that provides high-level data on occupational license processing. In addition to showing the average number of days to process all new applications, all health applications, and all business applications, users may also look up application review times by profession.
On August 8, Governor Tony Evers called a special session of the Legislature, urging lawmakers to consider a $1 billion workforce development package the Governor said was needed to address the state’s workforce shortage crisis.
Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, convened the session as required by law, but quickly adjourned without acting. They called the special session a “political stunt” that was fiscally irresponsible and did not provide real solutions to Wisconsin’s workforce challenges.
The Governor’s proposed legislative package included $365 million to support childcare programs; the creation of a paid family and medical leave program that would cost $243 million; $66 million for the UW; $40 million for the state’s technical colleges; and nearly $60 million to help address the shortage of healthcare workers across the state. The funding to address the healthcare worker shortage included:
· $10 million for the state’s nurse educators program, which incentivizes nursing professors to remain in Wisconsin.
· $6 million for the WisCaregiver Careers program, which is intended to increase the number of certified nursing assistants employed at nursing homes.
· $17 million for healthcare opportunity grants, which will go to local workforce development boards to help individuals obtain employment in the healthcare field.
· $936,600 for the state Department of Workforce Development to work on healthcare apprenticeships.
· $22.5 million for healthcare innovation grants, which will help the healthcare industry recruit and retain employees.
· Over $1.2 million for graduate medical training support grants.
Author: Andrew Engel – WISCA Lobbyist (Hamilton Consulting)
Following what was effectively a summer break for many legislators, the Assembly and Senate held their first days of votes in the fall floor period that started in September, and regular committee hearings have resumed. Here are a few key highlights:
While there is hope that the Governor and legislature will find common ground on the two issues resulting in a compromise providing a tax cut and money for childcare, the discussions at this point and time do not appear promising.
WISCA works closely with our national association partner – the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA) – on advocacy and other issues important to our members. In fact, the WISCA Government Affairs Team joins a national ASCA state chapter call twice a month for a federal regulatory and legislative briefing and closely follows their published Government Affairs Updates. Here is the latest federal government affairs news from ASCA:
Price Transparency Legislation
On July 26, the US House Ways & Means Committee voted to send H.R. 4822, the Health Care Price Transparency Act of 2023, to the House floor. The legislation, which was introduced on July 24, impacts various healthcare providers and would require ASCs to compile and make public, including:
· Standard charges for each item and service furnished by the ASC.
· Information on the facility’s prices for as many of the CMS-specified shoppable services that are furnished by the ASC, and additional ASC-selected shoppable services, as may be necessary for a combined total of at least 300 shoppable services.
· An indication that a service is not furnished by the ASC for each CMS-specified shoppable service that is not furnished.
This legislation allows CMS to issue penalties of $300 per day for noncompliance. ASCA has been working closely with Ways & Means and Energy and Commerce committee staff to improve the legislation and has already successfully pushed back the effective date in the bill to 2028 from 2026, as originally proposed. In addition, ASCA got language removed that would have provided the secretary of the US Department of Health & Human Services broad discretion to require ASCs to submit “any additional information specified by the Secretary.” ASCA staff and lobbyists will continue to work with members of Congress over the August recess to reduce burdens on facilities and try to ensure that any price transparency legislation enacted would benefit patients and the general public.
As was reported in last month’s edition of the WISCA Advocacy Newsletter, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the 2024 proposed payment rule for ASCs and hospital outpatient departments (HOPD) on July 13.
Of note, CMS concurred with ASCA’s request and proposed to continue to align the ASC update factor with the one used to update HOPD payments, extending the five-year interim period an additional two calendar years (CY) through 2025. In addition, if the proposed rule were to be finalized as drafted, ASCs would see, on average over all covered procedures, an effective update of 2.8 percent—a combination of a 3.0 percent inflation update based on the hospital market basket and a productivity reduction mandated by the Affordable Care Act of 0.2 percentage points. It is important to note that CMS does not consider sequestration in its proposed rule. This statutory 2.0 percent reduction remains in effect unless Congress acts.
The Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA) – our national partner organization – has been keeping WISCA fully briefed on the proposed rule and has developed a national stakeholder letter outlining the ASC industry’s concerns and general thoughts on the rule. WISCA has signed onto the comment letter, which will be submitted to CMS prior to the September 11, 2023, deadline.
Earlier this month, Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) appointed Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) to serve on the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee – the Joint Finance Committee – for the remainder of the 2023-2024 legislative session. Andraca replaces Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) on the committee. Goyke stepped down from the post to focus on his campaign for the position of Milwaukee City Attorney. The 16-members Joint Finance Committee is comprised of lawmakers from both the Assembly and Senate, with 12 Republicans and four Democrats.
Earlier this month, Gov. Tony Evers called the legislature into special session for Wednesday, Sept.20, 2023, to consider a number of workforce-related initiatives originally included in his state budget bill but rejected by the legislature. Among the proposals Evers is asking lawmakers to act on include the creation of a paid family and medical leave program, financial support (over $300 million) for the state’s childcare industry, and funding ($60 million) to help address Wisconsin’s shortage of health care workers. The $60 million for health care workforce development would fund the following programs under Evers’ plan:
· $22.5 million for healthcare innovation grants, which will help the healthcare industry recruit and retain employees.
· $17 million for healthcare opportunity grants, which will go to local workforce development boards to assist individuals obtain employment in the healthcare field.
· $10 million to increase the number of nurse educators program in Wisconsin.
· $6 million for the WisCaregiver Careers program, which aims to increase the number of certified nursing assistants employed at nursing homes.
· $1.2 million for graduate medical training support grants.
· $936,600 for the state Department of Workforce Development to advance healthcare apprenticeships opportunities.
Despite the governor’s call for a special session, the Republican-controlled legislature is opposed to the Evers initiatives, and they are expected to quickly adjourn the Sept. 20 special session without acting on any of the proposals.
“All Copays Count” applies discounts and other assistance toward patients’ out-of-pocket costsGuest Column by WI Senator André Jacque
Patients would receive protections from rising health care costs by ensuring that health plans count copay assistance toward a patient’s maximum out-of-pocket cost or annual deductible, under bipartisan “All Copays Count” legislation (Senate Bill 100) I introduced with several of my colleagues earlier this session.
Amid nationwide inflation, health plans have increasingly shifted costs to patients and created barriers between individuals and the medications on which they rely. For advocates of Wisconsin patients and the providers who care for them, this bill is a clear solution to help those individuals afford the critical medications their physicians prescribe to them to manage their health.
Copay assistance programs often act as a lifeline to help patients afford specialty medications they need to treat serious health conditions. Sixteen other states have already enacted such protections.
Just when patients think they’ve reached their out-of-pocket limit, insurers and benefit managers keep moving the goalposts, and folks wind up paying more. For someone suffering from a complex disease, the financial hit is especially hard, leaving them to choose between groceries, utilities and mortgage payments - and the prescription medications that keep their condition under control.
In 2020, the average deductible for single coverage was $1,364, which is a 364% increase from 2006. Over the past five years, the percentage of covered workers with a general annual deductible of $1,000 or more for single coverage has grown from 23% to 57%. Further, in 2020 more than one in four covered workers was enrolled in a plan with a deductible of $2,000 or more.
Many of these patients rely on copay coupons and vouchers to afford their prescribed treatments at the pharmacy counter. Insurers should not have the power to prevent that copay assistance from counting toward their out-of-pocket expense or deductible. If patients can’t afford their medications, they may choose to skip doses or stop treatment altogether, which can lead to increased costs in the overall healthcare system. And worse.
The All Copays Count legislation would ensure that the copay assistance programs patients use to afford their medications count toward their out-of-pocket costs. It would also close the loophole that allows insurers to define prescription drugs as non-essential and therefore not eligible to count toward their deductible. At the same time, under this initiative Wisconsin insurers would retain flexibility with their plans, while making sure patients can continue to afford the medications they need.
If you have cancer, epilepsy or any other serious health condition, the last thing you should have to worry about is whether you’ve met your deductible. “All Copays Count” is about giving patients peace of mind that they can pay for their prescriptions.
Senator André Jacque represents Northeast Wisconsin’s First Senate District, consisting of Door and Kewaunee Counties and portions of Brown, Calumet, Manitowoc, and Outagamie counties.
Association of Wisconsin Surgery Centers
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920-560-5627 I WISCA@badgerbay.co