Senator Andre Jacque hopes to open the legislative session with bipartisanship through a bill protecting access to health care for those with pre-existing conditions. Having graduated from the Assembly to the Senate after the November election, he is confident the legislature can push the bill through, despite reservations among the Republican-led Senate’s own leadership.
The bill would kick in if the existing protections provided in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) disappeared, likely through litigation that Wisconsin itself is a part of.
“It’s about giving peace of mind to constituents so whatever is happening at the national level, we’re not going to be worried about having access,” Jacque said.
Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) is a co-author on the bill, but she is the only Democrat signed on among more than 60 co-sponsors. Rep. Joel Kitchens is also a co-sponsor of the bill.
Democrats have been critical of the lawsuit that Wisconsin and 19 other states filed against the ACA in February 2018, arguing that if there is a concern about protections for pre-existing conditions, Wisconsin should not be trying to tear down the very thing that provides those protections.
“If you want to protect the millions of Wisconsinites with pre-existing conditions, drop Wisconsin from this lawsuit today because actions speak louder than empty political promises,” said then-gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers during the run-up to the November election.
In last year’s legislative session, the Assembly did pass a bill aimed at protecting pre-existing conditions, but it died in the Senate.
“I think it came down to a couple of my colleagues in the Senate had reservations,” said Jacque of the failure to pass the bill last year. “There’s now going to be one more Republican vote in that favor, so I have the ability to make the difference there.”
But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is still unsure.
“I don’t want to overpromise on [a pre-existing conditions bill] right out of the gate,” Fitzgerald said on Jan. 7.
“I think that’s the default answer by the majority leader and has been the case regardless of who’s the majority leader,” Jacque said of Fitzgerald’s reservations. “You have a smaller margin in the Senate.”
Gov. Tony Evers signaled skepticism about the bill, saying it did not go as far as the ACA in providing protections because it did not regulate self-funded plans from private companies. But only the federal government can regulate such plans, so proponents say the bill goes as far as it legally can. The bill had a hearing in the Committee on Health meeting this week, which may move the bill forward on Thursday after Pulse press time. The Assembly is expected to vote on its own version of the bill the week of Jan. 22.