Lawmakers in the Wisconsin State Senate passed COVID-19 related legislation on Tuesday with a bipartisan, 29-2 vote. Like the Assembly, the Senate’s version of this legislation included all key Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) priorities. The Senate amended Assembly Bill 1, which was passed by the Assembly last week, through a substitute amendment essentially replacing the bill sent to it by the Assembly with a new version negotiated between Senate Republicans and Governor Tony Evers. For a comparison of the two bills, please see a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
In a press release following passage of the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said, “Today, the Senate passed a bill which can deliver a win for our state as we work to govern responsibly during this time of turmoil.” Following passage of the bill, Governor Evers commended the work of Senator LeMahieu and his colleagues in the Senate.
"I've been grateful to work together with Republican Majority Leader LeMahieu to find common ground and pass a bill on COVID-19 that reflects a good faith effort in compromise and bipartisanship," Evers said. "Although it's not the COVID compromise we originally proposed, AB 1 as amended by the Senate is a good start to support our state's response to this pandemic."
Assembly Republicans signaled opposition to this Senate compromise, but also discussed taking additional action later this month on the bill. Following the vote, Republican Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R – Kaukauna) criticized actions of the Senate. “Instead of listening to our hard-working families, the Senate approved a bill that fails to provide protections for places of worship. It fails to allow those who want to opt out of the COVID vaccine to do so. And finally, it fails to prevent local health officers from shutting down local businesses on a whim without approval from elected officials.”
The day before the Senate’s floor vote, WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding testified before the Senate Committee on Organization for information only, thanking lawmakers for moving on this legislation and encouraging the Senate to adopt provisions included in the Assembly’s version of the bill. Borgerding’s testimony to the Committee can be viewed on WisconsinEye through this link (Note: Viewers will need to login to a free WisconsinEye account then copy the linked URL into your internet browser to view at the appropriate time slot.) or through written comments provided to the Committee.
After the Senate adopted an additional floor amendment, both the Assembly and Senate versions of this legislation include the following critical WHA priorities:
- Providing Medicaid claims data to the Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center so our members can better understand how care from non-hospital providers impacts outcomes for Medicaid patients inside the hospital walls (readmissions, birth complications, etc.)
- Authorizing up to $100 million in state general fund revenues (rather than Medicaid funds) to continue the state’s COVID operations
- Authorizing Medical Assistance payments to hospitals for nursing facility level care when the hospital cannot find a post-acute care facility willing to take the patient
- Authorizing Medical Assistance payments to hospitals for certain outpatient services provided outside the four walls of the hospital (provider based facilities)
- Permanently streamlining licensure for out-of-state providers licensed in good standing who want to practice in Wisconsin, giving providers the ability to care for patients immediately and not wait for their license to be approved. This policy, based on the same streamlined process the state is currently under to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, would be an ongoing/permanent change and not limited to a public health emergency.
- Providing regulatory clarification to hospitals that want to participate in CMS’s Acute Hospital Care at Home program for Medicare enrollees and specifically exempting hospitals from home health agency licensure requirements for these hospital services. The bill would also permit the hospital to continue receiving Medicaid payment for a hospital stay when part of the service was delivered at home under the program, consistent with the Medicare program’s requirements.
Assembly Bill 1, as amended by the Senate, will now head back to the Assembly for further consideration by that chamber. Identical versions of the bill need to be approved by both chambers of the legislature before the bill can be sent to Governor Evers’ desk for his signature or veto. Unlike a state budget, which can be partially vetoed by the Governor, Assembly Bill 1 needs to be approved or vetoed in full.