Stop the COVID Spread! Coalition Pushes New Message of Bipartisan Cooperation

Congressman Pocan, Speaker Vos join together to urge Wisconsin residents to stay safe

Madison, WI— Keeping ourselves, our friends, neighbors, and loved ones safe is not political.

That’s the message delivered by Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan, who appear together in the latest “Stop the COVID Spread!” coalition public education announcement aimed at combating the pandemic raging throughout Wisconsin. The new ad, the coalition’s fifth, will begin airing on broadcast and digital channels throughout the state today as rampant community spread of COVID-19 continues to stress the state’s health care system.

Representing different political parties, geographic areas and bodies of government, Congressman Pocan and Speaker Vos have come together for a cause that all Wisconsin residents can agree on: beating COVID-19. “After another election, it’s clear we have differences, but we can also agree,” says Speaker Vos in the ad. “We can still live our lives and be sensible and safe.” Both elected officials speak about the importance of preventative measures including wearing masks, hand washing, practicing social distancing, and staying home whenever possible. “We have to do all we can to stay safe,” adds Congressman Pocan.

“Wisconsin needs unified responses to the COVID pandemic and aligning around a common message is critical,” said Eric Borgerding, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association. “We’re grateful to Speaker Vos and Congressman Pocan for joining us to send the public a crucial message about working together to slow COVID’s spread.” “We all need to do our part to stop the spread of COVID and get Wisconsin out of this public health crisis,” added Wisconsin Counties Association Executive Director Mark D. O’Connell. “As Congressman Pocan and Speaker Vos have demonstrated, keeping Wisconsin safe is something upon which we can all agree.”

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Feingold, Johnson clash over health reform

Wisconsin Health News

Contenders for the U.S. Senate clashed over the federal health reform law Tuesday night.


Former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., called for building on the act, while current Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., called for its repeal during a debate in Milwaukee hosted by Marquette University Law School and WISN-12.


Feingold said the law has helped 20 million people gain coverage. He added that it’s stopped insurers from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and allowed children to stay on their parents’ health plans until they turned 26.


“Moving forward, yes, we have to work on a bipartisan basis to figure out how to make it better,” he said. As an example, he pointed toward fixing the family glitch, where eligibility for tax credits is based on an individual rather than family.


He also called for repealing the Cadillac Tax, addressing the rising cost of prescription medications and finding a way to control deductibles.


Johnson said the law was “a disaster” and that its supporters committed “massive consumer fraud.” He said the law has forced consumers off their health plans, failed to reduce premiums and caused people to lose their doctors.


“The fact of the matter is thousands of Wisconsinites lost the health plans they could afford,” Johnson said. He pointed to the elimination of the state’s high-risk pool, which he said led to 20,000 losing coverage.


Johnson said consumers should establish health savings accounts and be allowed to buy health plans across state lines. He also called for re-instating high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.


The candidates also addressed the opioid epidemic. Feingold called for providing more resources to combat the epidemic and said pharmaceutical companies need to be held accountable.


Johnson said Congress provided money through the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. He said the federal government has been drafting rules to cut the connection between Medicare payments and questions about treating pain in a survey of consumers in part because of legislation he’s introduced. 


Lawmakers unveil rural healthcare initiative

Wisconsin Health News
A group of Republican lawmakers plan to introduce a $3.5 million package of bills next session aimed at improving rural healthcare.

The bills, part of the Rural Wisconsin Initiative, would address projected workforce shortages by expanding training programs for healthcare professionals and wellness programs in rural areas.

“We know that medical professionals who have exposure to rotations in rural areas are more likely to stay in those areas,” Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Rice Lake, said in a statement. “These bills will help ensure that we build on that reputation by encouraging young healthcare professionals to live, work and train in our rural communities.

One of the proposals would provide $250,000 annually over the next biennium to the Wisconsin Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program. The funding is aimed at OB-GYN and mental health residencies in northern Wisconsin,according to the lawmakers.

They also propose the creation of a $250,000 annual grant program that would be available to hospitals and other entities that form training consortia focused on allied health professionals like radiographers, physical therapists, nutritionists and others.

The lawmakers also encourage hospitals to partner with educational institutions to support advance practice clinicians. The package would establish a $750,000 annual grant program for establishing clinical training infrastructure in rural communities.

And the package would create a grant program to encourage the development of wellness facilities and programs in underserved areas. Grants would be limited to $250,000, and the state would award at least two to recipients that provide matching funds.

An additional $100,000 annual grant would go to the Wisconsin Hospital Association Foundation to increase participation by rural hospitals in quality improvement activities. And lawmakers are looking at legislation that will identify future workforce gaps through collecting better workforce data.

“Many rural areas of Wisconsin are facing increasing challenges as they strive to deliver high-quality, accessible healthcare, including attracting and retaining highly skilled healthcare professionals,” WHA CEO Eric Borgerding said in a statement. “Healthcare is a key factor in economic development across the state and is critically important for rural areas.”

“The best way to ensure access is to have these professionals trained in the same rural environments where they will practice,” said George Quinn, Wisconsin Council on Medical Education and Workforce executive director, in a statement.

Tim Size, executive director at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, said the package would accelerate what’s already happening in rural communities and expand best practices across the state.


“It’s seed money to help the development, help the expansion,” Size said, calling the initiative a “very important next step.”


He noted that health is only part of the Wisconsin Rural Initiative.


“The health of the community – education, jobs – you can’t separate them out,” he said. “It doesn’t any good to have great healthcare if there’s no jobs or education. We need all these pieces to be working together.”


DHS requests $452 million increase for Medicaid in 2017-’19 biennium

Wisconsin Health News

The Department of Health Services is requesting an increase of $452 million in general purpose revenue for Medicaid in its 2017-’19 biennial budget request to the Department of Administration.

Secretary Linda Seemeyer wrote in the request sent Thursday to DOA that the department’s budget request that the increase in Medicaid funding is based on projected enrollment, costs per enrollee and other factors.

“While still a significant amount of funding, this increase is small by historical standards,” Seemeyer wrote, noting that the last three biennial budgets increased state spending in the program by $650 million, $685 million and $1.6 billion respectively.

Seemeyer also noted they expect the program to be below budget in the current biennium, with more than $260 million GPR expected to lapse into the state’s general fund at the end of fiscal year 2017. That lapse is separate from the department’s request for an increase.

“These slowing Medicaid growth rates reflect the success of Governor Walker’s entitlement reforms, efforts to improve health outcomes through better care coordination and initiatives to identify and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse,” she wrote. “They also result from improved oversight of managed care contracts and reforms enacted by the governor and Legislature.”


Timberlake set to join Michael Best Strategies

Wisconsin Health News

Karen Timberlake, director of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, is joining Michael Best Strategies as a senior advisor, according to a Wednesday statement.

Timberlake has served as director of the institute since 2011. She previously served as the Department of Health Services’ secretary.

She starts Oct. 10, according to Kanoe Riedel, a spokeswoman for Michael Best & Friedrich, the law firm affiliated with Michael Best Strategies.


MEB approves opioid prescribing guidelines

The Wisconsin Medical Examining Board (MEB) approved best practice guidelines for opioid prescribing at its monthly meeting in Madison in July. This action is a result of Wisconsin State Assembly Rep. John Nygren’s HOPE legislative package; 2015 Act 269 granted the MEB authority to post the guidelines, which are inspired by those already in place from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s Worker’s Compensation program.

While the guidelines are not mandatory practice parameters, they are expected to assist physicians with making more informed decisions about their prescribing practices. Click here to view the guidelines.

  • The MEB also moved closer to finalizing new continuing medical education (CME) rules that will eventually require physicians to include coursework on the new guidelines as part of their 30 hours per biennium requirement. The likely outcome of this CME-related rule will be:
  • All physicians who have a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) number will be required to take two credits of CME in prescribing-related areas as part of their biennial 30-credit total.
  • This requirement will take effect for the next two complete CME reporting cycles (essentially for 2017-2019 and then again for 2019-2021).
  • The first time a physician satisfies that two-credit requirement, the CME will need to include information on the new opioid prescribing guidelines. (It is likely the Wisconsin Medical Society’s opioid prescribing webinar series, which is now available on-demand, will be grandfathered in as satisfying the guidelines-related subject matter requirement.)
  • The second time the physician satisfies the two-credit requirement, it can be in the arena of “responsible controlled substances prescribing.”
  • This requirement COULD end after two CME cycles—it will depend on the status of the opioid crisis and whether or not the MEB continues the requirement for future cycles.

The MEB is expected to finalize these requirements at its meeting later this month.

Walker appoints Seemeyer to lead DHS

Wisconsin Health News
Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday appointed Linda Seemeyer to serve as secretary of the Department of Health Services. Seemeyer served as director of the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services from 2007 to 2015. She was also director of the Milwaukee County Department of Administrative Services and deputy secretary of the Department of Administration under Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Seemeyer starts Aug. 22. She succeeds Kitty Rhoades who passed away in June. Interim Secretary Tom Engels will resume his duties as deputy secretary.