- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The leaders of the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee announced Tuesday that they’ve drafted a bill that would give their panel the ability to sign off on changes to the state’s health insurance program.

The Group Health Insurance Program covers a wide range of public workers, including state employees; state retirees and their spouses or domestic partners; local government workers whose employers choose to participate in the program; and local government retirees. The program covered tens of thousands of people as of January 2014. An 11-person board that includes the governor and attorney general administers the program from within the state Department of Employee Trust Funds.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, issued a news release saying they have written a bill that would give the committee the power to approve or nix changes the board proposes through a 21-day passive review process.

They said in the release that the board has been considering making changes to the program that could hurt the health care marketplace and the economy and taxpayers should be represented in that discussion. They offered no details in the release, but Nygren spokeswoman Jennifer Malcore said the legislators are worried the board may move to a self-funding insurance model in which the state would pay benefits directly rather than purchasing insurance from HMOs.

“Overall, we just want legislative oversight,” Malcore said.

DETF spokesman Mark Lamkins declined to comment, saying the agency would have to review the legislation.

The Wisconsin Association of Health Plans, which represents 12 health plans available through the group program, applauded the proposal, issuing a statement saying decisions affect such an important program deserve legislative review.

“Major changes to the (program) can have a significant impact on the state budget and larger implications for Wisconsin’s health system, payers and patients, as well as local economies,” the association’s executive director, Nancy Wenzel, said in the statement.

The bill resembles a provision that finance committee Republicans tucked into the state budget earlier this year. That language would have required the insurance board to submit changes to the program to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Employee Relations and given that panel the ability to approve or kill the proposals. The governor would have had the final say on the committee’s actions.

Gov. Scott Walker vetoed the provisions out of the spending plan, writing in his veto message that he objects to the employment committee infringing on the board’s responsibilities. The committee already has a substantial role in the program because it reviews state employees’ compensation plan every two years, the governor added.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the new bill.

The legislators said in their release that they expected the bill will come to both the Assembly and Senate floor this session. Spokeswomen for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, didn’t respond to emails inquiring about the bill’s chances.


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