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Policymaker Spotlight: An Interview with State Representative Joe Sanfelippo

March 19, 2021 9:19 AM | WiAHC Office (Administrator)

First elected to the state Assembly in 2012, Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) represents the 15th Assembly District, which includes portions of Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. The district also includes the city of New Berlin and part of West Allis.

Before running for office, Rep Sanfelippo spent all his professional life in the private sector. He was the owner and operator of landscaping business for over 20 years, and he still operates a small Christmas tree farm. In addition to drawing on his experience as a small businessman to champion pro-business, pro-growth policies in the Legislature, as the long-time Chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, Rep. Sanfelippo has focused his policymaking efforts on health care issues and challenges facing the state.

Over the years, Sanfelippo has worked on numerous proposals to help improve the delivery of quality patient care, including legislation passed by the Legislature last session –but ultimately vetoed by Governor Tony Evers – to recognize and properly regulate direct primary care in Wisconsin. Under the direct primary care model, patients pay a monthly fee, with no further co-pays or deductibles, and in return receive unlimited access to their primary care doctor.

In the current legislative session, Sanfelippo has been a leading voice on COVID-19 vaccine distribution and authored legislation recently passed into law that authorizes pharmacy technicians with proper training and supervision to administer vaccines.

Rep. Sanfelippo took a few minutes to talk with us about a handful of topical health care-related issues and what his health care policy priorities are for the 2021-22 legislative session:

QUESTION:You are serving another session as Chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, which plays a vital role in shaping health care policy in Wisconsin. With that in mind, what do you believe are the most pressing health care-related challenges facing the state, and what policy solutions do you believe are needed to address those challenges?

Rep. Sanfelippo: The immediate issue at hand of course is to make sure we are getting vaccines to everyone who wants them as quickly as possible. The administration made such a mess by unnecessarily bogging down the initial rollout in bureaucratic red tape and only shaped up once the legislature began putting pressure on them. We need to eliminate their bureaucratic barriers to vaccination and continue our oversight to compel them to improve.

The other issue garnering much of my efforts will be to combat the Governor’s ridiculous idea to legalize marijuana. The potentially dangerous health implications are very serious according to every health care organization and official, especially for our kids which makes this politically motivated proposal even more reckless.

QUESTION:Outside of the state’s leading health care issues you mentioned above, what other health care-related proposals do you or your committee plan to pursue during the 2021-22 legislation? For example, last session you authored the direct primary care bill that would have exempted direct primary care agreements between a health care provider and a patient from Wisconsin’s insurance laws. Do you plan to reintroduce that bill or other legislation that would modify the traditional delivery of medical care in Wisconsin?

Rep. Senfelippo: We will continue focusing on innovative ideas that expand access and increase affordability while keeping the decision making between the doctor and patient where it belongs.

QUESTION: Prior to COVID-19, Wisconsin was facing a growing shortage of health care professionals, from physicians and nurses to CNAs and mental health care providers . The pandemic has only magnified the shortage and has put additional stress on the delivery of care in Wisconsin. Are there any potential programs or policies you are considering or willing to support that would help address the state’s health care workforce shortage?

Rep Sanfelippo: We can continue to work on education and tax incentives to encourage individuals to enter the health care fields with the most critical shortages. In addition, we must look at MA rates for certain sectors. Many of these services have not had any or only minimal increases in the past decade making hard for businesses to compete with the rest of the community for employees.

QUESTION: As part of his 2021-23 budget bill proposal, Gov. Evers once again recommended Wisconsin accept the federal Affordable Care Act's provision for Medicaid expansion, stating the expansion would provide healthcare coverage over 45,000 uninsured low-income families in Wisconsin and reduce state healthcare costs by $630 million over the two-year budget cycle. The Legislature removed the initiative form the Governor’s 2019-21 budget proposal, and it appears likely lawmakers will once again remove the provision. What is your position on the issue, and why?

Rep. Sanfelippo: MA expansion is DOA in my book. There is plenty of proof by looking at those states which did expand in the past to see the disaster it has caused for state budgets. Furthermore, adding another 45,000 individuals to a system that is already struggling to provide enough care for members is a recipe for disaster.

QUESTION:Last month, Gov. Evers recently vetoed Assembly Bill 1, the Legislature’s broad COVID-19 relief legislation. As a result, several of the bill’s provisions have been introduced as separate legislation. What steps, if any, do you believe the Legislature should take next to address the public health aspects of COVID-19, the continued roll out of vaccines, and any additional federal funding the state will receive to address the pandemic?

Rep. Sanfelippo:  The best thing the legislature can do is to continue our close oversight of the process. We know from experience that Governor Evers’ administration is severely challenged when it comes to carrying out day-to-day operational duties of an agency under demand. Just look at DWD and the unemployment mess. As soon as the legislature came back in last January, we made the vaccination rollout issue #1 and put the heat on the agency to shape up. Now that Secretary Palm has shipped out, we continue to be vigilant in our oversight and to address issues as they arise.

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