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Earlier this month, both the State Senate and State Assembly were on the floor voting on a wide range of legislation. The activity marked the first floor days after the summer break. In total, the two houses took up over eighty bills and resolutions.
Both houses worked diligently throughout August and September in the committee process to prepare much of the legislation voted on this week.
The State Senate was in session on Tuesday, October 8. Debate was generally uneventful with much of the legislation passing on bipartisan voice votes or unanimously. Among the highlights was a bill from Republican Senator Patrick Testin regarding industrial farming of hemp. Specifically, the bill, Senate Bill 188, aims to take the state’s current hemp cultivation pilot program to a permanent program. The bill’s authors cited the 2019 numbers that show over 1,400 growers and 700 hemp processors applied for permits from the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection. The bill passed 30-2 with Republicans Steve Nass and Duey Stroebel voting in opposition.
The Senate also took up a piece of legislation known as the Lemonade Stand Bill, which seeks to legalize minors being able to sell certain non-hazardous foods. The legislation was introduced following some stories in Wisconsin and other states about children being cited by local law enforcement for operating food stands without permits. The bill, Senate Bill 170, passed on a unanimous voice vote.
The State Assembly convened on Thursday, October 10. Like much of the Senate calendar, many bills passed on simple bipartisan voice votes. However, the calendar included a somewhat controversial resolution that sought to change Assembly rules. The controversy stemmed from events last year in which Representative Jimmy Anderson (D – Fitchburg) sought changes to Assembly rules which would allow him to call into committee meetings. Anderson, a paraplegic, sought the rule change in order to participate in committee meetings while also tending issues related to his disability.
Assembly Republican port forth the bill, Assembly Resolution 12, to change the rules to allow an accommodation for Anderson. However, the resolution also included other substantive rule changes which Assembly Democrats called a “power grab.” For instance, the resolution included a provision which would allow the Assembly unlimited veto override attempts.
In comments to the media, Anderson said, “We’re on the cusp of providing these accommodations and what does [Speaker Robin Vos] do? A political stunt that’s going to force me to vote against my own accommodations, I think that’s ridiculous.”
Following hours of debate on the resolution and an impassioned speech by Anderson, Assembly Republican leadership introduced an amendment to remove most the language not regarding accommodations for Anderson. Anderson said in another floor speech he would extend an “olive branch” and vote in favor of the amendment. The amendment was adopted and the resolution passed.
The Senate and Assembly will meet again in November.
This month, two bills aimed at helping home health agencies saw significant process in the legislative process. Senate Bill 416, which raises skilled nursing home health rates by 10%, received a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Health. Senate Bill 380 its companion bill Assembly Bill 410 both passed their respective committees this month. WiAHC actively engaged in lobbying and advocating for both initiatives.
On Wednesday, October 23, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services heard testimony on Senate Bill 416, which seeks to raise Medicaid reimbursement for home health skilled nursing visits by 10%. Medicaid rates for home health care have not been raised in over a decade, which has ultimately led to a workforce shortage crisis. Proponents argue the rates must be raised to attract more nurses to work in home health care. Additional workforce will be vital as home health utilization rates continue to increase.
WiAHC members Lisa Kirker and Colleen Shade testified before the committee in support of the bill. Kirker and Shade provided integral testimony on the financial strain placed on Wisconsin’s home health agencies due, in part, to insufficient Medicaid rates. They explained the intricacies of how Wisconsin’s rates are contributing to a nursing workforce shortage for agencies.
Committee members greatly appreciated their testimony and asked inciteful questions to gain additional information and clarification. By the end of their testimony, it was clear committee members understood the workforce shortage is real and the Medicaid rates are antiquated. WiAHC leaders are hopeful it will receive a vote in the coming weeks.
The Senate Committee on Health also unanimously passed Senate Bill 380, authored by Senator Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Representative Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), allows any Medicaid provider to seek and receive reimbursement for services provided via telehealth technology. The Assembly Committee on Medicaid Reform and Oversight passed the Assembly version, Assembly Bill 410, on October 30. WiAHC’s lobbyist advocated for the bills before the committee members throughout October.
The next step for Senate Bill 380 and Assembly Bill 410 would be to receive votes in their respective houses. WiAHC’s lobbying team is working with legislative leaders to try to schedule those bills.
On Wednesday, October 23, the State Senate Committee on Health and Human Services held a public hearing on Senate Bill 416, which seeks to increase Medicaid rates for home health care services by 10%. Members of the Wisconsin Association for Home Health Care (WiAHC) provided crucial testimony on the need for high Medicaid rates to address the home health care workforce shortage.
WiAHC members Lisa Kirker and Colleen Shade testified before the committee. Both Kirker and Shade are home health care agency administrators with backgrounds in nursing. Their crucial testimony illustrated the workforce crisis Wisconsin’s home health care agencies face.
In Wisconsin, Registered Nurses (RNs) are disproportionately represented in nearly all other areas within the healthcare industry. RNs working in home health settings make up just 6% of the total nursing workforce in the state, according to the Wisconsin Center for Nursing. Nationally, RNs working in home health settings make up nearly 13% of the total nursing workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This is caused, in part, by outdated Medicaid reimbursement rates. Home health agencies have not received a Medicaid reimbursement increase for skilled nursing visits in ten years. When home health agencies do not receive adequate reimbursement, they cannot provide staff with competitive reimbursement. “It is hard to recruit a nurse and be comparable in wages to a hospital,” Kirker told legislators. “When we don’t have staff, we can’t take new patients.”
Home health agencies need Medicaid rates to keep up with healthcare costs in order to staff agencies and provide low-cost, high-quality healthcare to patients in need. The demand for home health services is only going to increase.
“We know in 2025, 1.3 million people will be in need of homecare services,” Shade said. “Without an increase, [providing access to services] will continue to be a challenge.”
Kirker and Shade were grateful for the opportunity to testify and WiAHC hopes the bill will continue through the legislative process.
The Wisconsin Association for Home Health Care is a membership-based association that represents home health care agencies and their staff across the state. Wisconsin’s home care agencies provide care to Wisconsin residents throughout the year, and the more than 14,000 garners more than $386 million in wages. WiAHC members are committed to make sure home health care remains a high-quality, cost-effective health care option in our state.
Nominate a yourself or a colleague to serve on the WiAHC Board of Directors today!
WiAHC is run by a volunteer Board of Directors. Board members are elected annually to staggered three-year terms. Board members develop and manage the affairs of the Association and are supported by Committee Chairs and staff. Positions include Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary/Treasurer, and Regional and At-Large Representatives.
Positions serve a three-year term, starting January 2020. Those elected will also be invited to attend the final Board meeting of 2019.
To be eligible, a nominee's home health agency must be a current member of WiAHC.
How to Nominate
Nominating is easy, quick and simple!
Submit a nomination by completing the call for nominations form on the WiAHC website.
The deadline to submit nominations is October 25, 2019.
On September 20, Senator Patrick Testin (R – Stevens Point), Senator Jon Erpenbach (D – West Point), and Representative Chris Taylor (D – Madison) introduced a bipartisan medical marijuana bill.
The legislation would legalize medicinal use of cannabis for specified diseases laid out in the bill. The legislation direct the Department of Health Services to develop a medical cannabis registry. In order for an individual to obtain cannabis, they must have a registry identification card and a recommendation from a physician.
Furthermore, the bill requires the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection to develop a licensing system for growers, producers, and sellers in order to ensure quality and safety in medical cannabis products.
If passed, Wisconsin would join in Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan in legalizing medical cannabis. However, passage appears to be a bit of a longshot. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) told the media, “I don’t support this plan and I think it’s going to be a tough sell to a majority of my caucus.”
While there have been attempts in recent legislative sessions to legalize medical cannabis, this effort is somewhat different due to Republican Senator Patrick Testin being a coauthor of the bill. This is the first bipartisan attempt in recent legislative sessions.
Last month, the legislative update included an article regarding two important pieces of legislation introduced in the State Legislature. The first provides Medicaid reimbursement for services provided via telehealth. The second seeks to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates for home health agencies by 10 percent. In September, both bills had some promising movement in the legislative process.
First, the Assembly version telehealth bill, Assembly Bill 410, received a public hearing in the Assembly Committee on Medicaid Reform and Oversight on September 24. WiAHC submitted written testimony to the committee in favor of the bill. In general, the hearing went very well with no testimony in opposition to the bill. The next step is for the committee to vote the bill out of committee. Doing so would allow the bill to receive a vote on the Assembly floor.
The Senate version, Senate Bill 380, was referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.
The home health Medicaid reimbursement bill, Assembly Bill 447 and Senate Bill 416, were both referred to standing committees. Assembly Bill 447 was sent to the Assembly Committee on Medicaid Reform and Oversight, of which bill author Rep. Rob Brooks is the vice chairman of the committee. Senate Bill 416 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.
Upon official introduction, Assembly Bill 447 and Senate 416 had a bipartisan list of forty cosponsors, which, in general terms, shows significant support for the bills.
Both bills are awaiting public hearings and WiAHC’s lobbyists are working with the respective committee chairs to schedule those hearings. The lobbying team will continue to provide updates as they advocate for both bills.
Earlier this month, Congressman James Sensenbrenner announced he is not seeking reelection the the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020. A few weeks prior, Congressman Sean Duffy announced he would be resigning his seat in Congress in September. Both announcements sparked a flurry of speculation about who may run to fill the positions.
Speculation has since solidified into official announcements. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) announced he will run to replace Sensenbrenner in 2020, and State Senator Tom Tiffany (R – Minocqua) is running in the special election to succeed Duffy. While not officially announced, State Senator Chris Kapenga (R – Delafield) is considering jumping in the Republican primary with Fitzgerald.
Sensenbrenner, who twenty terms in the House of Representatives, leaves open the 5th Congressional district seat. The 5th is the most conservative district in the state, which means the real race will be in the Republican primary. Should Fitzgerald, Kapenga, or another Republican challenger win the primary, they would be shoo-ins in the general election. There is currently some speculation that former Governor Scott Walker’s son, Matt Walker, may jump in the race.
Duffy’s retirement leaves the 7th Congressional district open. Duffy, a Republican, won the seat with at least 60% of the vote in the last three elections. Political spectators believe the expect the seat to remain Republican. Governor Tony Evers announced a special election will take place on January 27 with primaries on December 30.
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