By TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Assembly overwhelmingly approved a bill on Tuesday that would force health insurers to cover pre-existing conditions should Republicans succeed in achieving their long-held goal to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, heading off likely criticism of GOP legislators on the 2020 campaign trail.
Democrats blasted the bill as a publicity stunt, saying it wouldn’t go nearly far enough. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, pushed Republicans for various changes, including prohibiting annual and lifetime coverage limits and providing coverage for services for mothers and newborns, as well as prescription drugs.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other Republican leaders chose to amend the proposal on Tuesday to eliminate annual and lifetime limits. They scrapped the rest of Evers’ revisions, saying they’re outside the scope of the bill. The measure ultimately passed 76-19. Sixteen of the 35 Democrats in that chamber voted for it after their side spent nearly four hours railing against the bill.
Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff stopped short of saying the governor wouldn’t sign it but warned that he would be very disappointed if all the changes he wanted weren’t included. Evers himself tweeted on late Tuesday afternoon that the bill in its current form would offer less benefits for fewer people.
“Republicans must stop playing politics with Wisconsinites’ healthcare (sic),” Evers wrote.
Vos stressed that Republicans were trying to work with Evers, and that the governor should realize he needs to give something to get something.
“For (Democrats) to say if we don’t get everything, that would be a disappointment for the state and a bad sign of things to come, that it’s ‘my way or the highway,’” Vos said.
It’s not certain the measure will reach Evers’ desk. The bill next goes to the state Senate, but Republicans who control that chamber let a similar proposal die last session. Asked if the Senate would vote on this bill, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald replied, “We could, yeah. Maybe. I mean, maybe. I don’t know.”
Fitzgerald said he and Vos met with Evers on the bill last week and left not knowing what Evers might sign.
“It’s pretty hard to negotiate against that,” Fitzgerald said.
Wisconsin Democrats made coverage for pre-existing conditions a big issue during the 2018 campaigns, ripping Republicans for joining a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. Parts of the act guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Evers, in his State of the State speech two hours after the bill passed, announced that he had ordered Attorney General Josh Kaul to withdraw Wisconsin from that lawsuit. It’s not clear if he has the power to do that. A law passed in the so-called lame-duck session last month prohibits a withdrawal without the Legislature’s approval.
Republicans retained control of the Assembly and Senate after the November elections, but their first step after this legislative session began on Jan. 7 was to bring back the pre-existing coverage bill.
The proposal would take effect only if the ACA were repealed, giving Republicans a guaranteed victory if the act were erased. They could boast of a huge national triumph while avoiding alienating sick Wisconsinites.
Assembly Democrats pounced on the bill during the floor debate Tuesday, spending four hours lambasting it. Minority Leader Gordon Hintz questioned how Republicans can support coverage for pre-existing conditions while suing to repeal the ACA.
Republicans said they were stunned Democrats weren’t supporting the proposal.
“Don’t let excellent get in the way of good,” GOP Rep. Mary Felzkowski said. “That’s what you’re doing.”