“Regulatory reform,” “regulatory streamlining” and “cutting red tape” are frequently among the named goals for a piece of legislation or administrative rulemaking effort supported by advocacy organizations, including the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA). But for WHA, these common phrases have real meaning—and real impact. WHA’s efforts during the last several legislative sessions have resulted in meaningful reform with significant benefit to our members.
“Hospitals and health care systems strive to provide reliable access to high quality, efficient health care throughout Wisconsin. They work to provide real value to their communities,” said Eric Borgerding, WHA president and CEO, when asked to recall WHA’s regulatory reform efforts. “But to be successful, those efforts sometimes depend on government action, to guard against or address regulatory redundancies and inconsistencies and to ensure once-necessary government standards do not become obsolete. We have been fortunate in Wisconsin that legislators, regulatory agencies and the Administration have worked with providers to support excellent health care in our communities.”
A good example of that work was the Hospital Regulatory Reform Bill (Act 236), which was co-authored by then-Representative, now Senator Howard Marklein. When Act 236 was signed into law in 2014, an article in the Valued Voice noted, “Hospitals and health systems across the state applauded the new law, which will synchronize the State’s hospital regulations with existing federal rules. For years, hospitals have had to comply with inconsistent state and federal rules, making compliance confusing and inefficient.”
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services completed the work on the regulatory reforms kicked off by Act 236 when it recently finalized changes to DHS 124, the state hospital regulation, which had not been updated significantly since 1988.
The Mental Health Coordination Bill, which was also part of WHA’s regulatory reform efforts, passed the same legislative session. WHA described that bill as removing “statutory obstacles to providing integrated and coordinated care to individuals with mental illness.” Borgerding said at the time, “While the views and treatment of mental illness have evolved, our laws have not kept pace with that change. WHA is very pleased to see the governor’s signature on the bipartisan [bill].”
WHA’s regulatory reform efforts have continued. At the end of last year, a WHA-supported bill that would enhance the availability of telehealth services in Wisconsin received strong, bipartisan support in the Legislature. At the bill signing, Borgerding said, “The bill Governor Evers is signing into law today brings more parity between in-person and telehealth-provided care and removes outdated barriers to delivering and receiving care through telehealth.” Borgerding continued, “This is especially important for expanding access to critical areas of care like behavioral health, where the need for services is being increasingly understood and growing rapidly.”
The telehealth changes were fortuitous given the increased reliance on those services during the pandemic that emerged a few months later.