- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker said Friday that he would consider seeking a waiver to let insurers raise premiums for people with pre-existing medical conditions if the House Republicans’ health care plan becomes law.

House GOP members narrowly passed the bill Thursday that would roll back former President Barack Obama’s health care law. Part of the bill would allow states to seek waivers exempting insurers from Obama’s prohibition on higher premiums for people with pre-existing problems. States could then use federal dollars to fund government-operated insurance programs for pools of expensive patients.

Walker, a Republican, told reporters that he would consider seeking such a waiver, saying Wisconsin has run high-risk pools well in the past.

“We had a very effective program before,” Walker said. “I think a lot of people were disappointed that Wisconsin was not allowed to have that under the Affordable Care Act, under Obamacare. So that’s something we’d certainly consider.”

Walker predicted, however, that the Senate would likely change the legislation and stressed that he wants to see what’s in the final package.

“What’s in the House bill could be very different than what’s in the Senate bill and what finally comes to the president,” Walker said. “So I’m going to wait until I see what’s in the final version.”

The state’s high-risk pool covered about 21,000 people as of June 2012, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Premiums in 2013 were as high as $1,500 per month for a 60-plus-year-old man with a $1,000 deductible, according to the bureau. The pool ended in 2014 when the health care exchanges began under Obama’s law.

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that tracks national health issues, about 852,000 non-elderly Wisconsin residents had pre-existing conditions in 2015. That’s a quarter of the state’s non-elderly population.

“Governor Walker just confirmed Wisconsinites’ worst fear about this health care bill,” Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said in a news release.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, said Vos wants to review the final legislation before deciding what the state should do but he wants to make sure people with pre-existing conditions have access to health insurance. Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said Fitzgerad was in his district Friday and wasn’t available for comment.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said in an email that he was disappointed that Walker is ready to sacrifice health care coverage for thousands of Wisconsin residents.

“We need to make health insurance more affordable for everyone, not penalize people who get sick or are born with a serious health concern,” Barca said.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said in an email that she was “shocked” that Walker would even entertain the idea of raising premiums on families with pre-existing conditions.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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