Walker plan to lower insurance rates wins committee approval

Scott Bauer
Associated Press
Governor Scott Walker talked to farmers about his plan to help lower premiums for people buying insurance on the private marketplace during Ag Day at the Capitol on Jan. 24 in Madison.

MADISON - Gov. Scott Walker's $200 million plan to help lower premiums for people buying insurance on the private marketplace won bipartisan approval Tuesday, Feb. 13, from a key legislative committee, but the panel punted on finding a way to pay for it.

The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee voted 13-3 Tuesday to pass the bill, setting it up for approval by the full Legislature as soon as next week. The measure has found broad support among health insurance providers, doctors and the medical community.

The committee approved the bill after taking out any way for the state to meet the expected $50 million to $80 million needed to pay for it. Walker had proposed tapping savings in the state Medicaid program, but concerns were raised that would not be sustainable. Republicans said they wanted to see if the savings materialized and noted that the state doesn't need to come up with funding until 2019 at the earliest, giving the Legislature time to find the money.

Democrats on the committee who voted against the bill said Walker, a longtime critic of the federal health care law, was using the bill as a campaign re-election ploy. They also argued that the state should accept federal Medicaid expansion money, which Walker and Republicans have repeatedly rejected, as a way to pay for it.

Three Democrats voted against the measure, while Rep. Katrina Shankland, of Stevens Point, joined with Republicans in supporting it.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he expected the Senate to vote on passing the bill as soon as next week. Walker heralded the committee vote in a statement saying, "Since Washington has failed to act, Wisconsin will lead" to lower premium costs.

Under the bill, the state would be authorized to seek a federal waiver to offer a reinsurance program to lower premium costs and pay for at least 50 percent of medical claims costing between $50,000 and $200,000. Walker has touted it as a way to shore  the state's private insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Rates increased on average of 36 percent this year for people buying insurance in the private marketplace, not counting federal subsidies

Horizon Government Affairs estimates that rates in Wisconsin would drop 13 percent in 2019 and 12 percent in 2020 if the reinsurance program created under the bill is in place.

The bill as passed also calls for Walker's administration to study bringing back the state's high-risk insurance pool that was phased out under the federal law.