Representatives from WHA, the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) and the Wisconsin Medical Society (WMS) participated in a panel discussion on the future of health care in Wisconsin moderated by Wisconsin Health News
Assistant Editor Sean Kirkby at the Mega Healthcare Conference at the Kalahari Convention Center in the Wisconsin Dells on Jan. 28. Naturally, much of the discussion centered on the projected long-term impact of COVID-19 on hospitals and health systems in the state.
Panelists described the roller coaster experienced by front line health care workers over the past two years from the onset of the pandemic to the promise of the vaccine to recent surges fueled by the Delta and Omicron variants. They discussed workforce shortages and the increases in vacancies over the past year resulting from health care workers resigning or looking for less stressful jobs.
While immediate solutions to workforce challenges have included legislation such as Act 10, which allows health care workers from other state with a valid license to begin practicing immediately in Wisconsin while they await a traditional license, panelists noted the need to increase supply in the long run. RWHC Director of Advocacy Jeremy Levin described federal grants available to help provide incentives for nursing staff to join rural hospitals. WHA Senior Vice President of Public Policy Joanne Alig stressed the importance of encouraging people to choose health care for all of rewards that come with serving such an important role in the community.
The panelists agreed that positive health care developments to come out of COVID-19’s prolonged presence include the acceleration of telehealth and virtual care trends and increased investment in broadband technology, particularly in rural areas. Although not appropriate for all patients or all types of care, broad segments of patients have shown increasing adaptability to virtual visits with their health care providers. Alig said there is still work to do in this area, as evidenced by the recent reminder from Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance to the state’s health insurance companies
to continue to cover such care.
Kirkby asked about the effects of the current political climate on health care in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Medical Society Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer Mark Grapentine noted a disheartening political divide fueled by COVID-19 that continues to frustrate frontline workers. “They got into the business to take care of people, but some people do not want to be taken care of,” he said. Grapentine worried that entrenched political antagonism is producing legislative proposals that would negatively affect health care.
“While both sides have strong beliefs, health care is caught in the middle, and that is certainly having an impact on our workforce,” said WHA’s Alig. “We have keep doing the work to find common ground and places where we can agree,” she added.
Kirkby asked the panel about recent proposals to prohibit some insurer practices, such as mandatory white bagging
. Panelists described provider frustrations with such practices that interfere with a patient’s ability to obtain timely care. Several audience members asked questions about what could be done to stop such practices. Panelists encouraged audience members to get involved and reminded them of WHA’s Hospitals Education & Advocacy Team (HEAT) program
, which provides information, tools and resources to effectively engage the state’s elected leaders on issues affecting health care in Wisconsin.