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Governor Evers Visits Gundersen

Gov. Tony Evers is accompanied by Gundersen Health System Executive Vice President Dr. Michael Dolan, left, Health and Human Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm, and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes during a visit Tuesday to the La Crosse health care provider.

MADISON — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed two executive orders related to health care access and insurance coverage on Tuesday, his office announced.

One order calls on the state Department of Health Services to develop a plan to expand Medicaid eligibility “to ensure that more Wisconsinites have access to affordable, quality healthcare, while saving Wisconsin taxpayer dollars.”

Evers has said he plans to include a proposal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid in his 2019-21 budget proposal. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said as long as Republicans control the Legislature, that proposal will “never” be approved. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has been less firm than Vos has been on the issue in recent weeks, but continues to signal that a move to accept the federal funds would be unlikely to pass the Senate.

The order also instructs DHS to, “when applicable, make decisions that are evidence-based and culturally competent.”

Earlier this month Evers announced that he selected Amanda Palm, an Obama administration alumna, to serve as DHS secretary. Palm served as a senior counselor to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services from 2014-17. Before that, she worked for five years as a senior health policy adviser to then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In a news conference, she pledged to work with the Evers administration “to improve healthcare coverage and address costs.”

Evers’ second health care-related order instructs three state agencies to develop plans and offer recommendations on how to protect insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions, make health plans more affordable and accessible, create insurance literacy curriculum for students and require insurers to be transparent about health plan costs, coverage and benefits.

The order also instructs the agencies — DHS, the Office of Commissioner on Insurance and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection — to “protect against attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act marketplace with short term plans that do not comply with Affordable Care Act requirements.”

Lawmakers have struggled for months to reach an agreement on legislation that would ensure coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act is overturned at the federal level.

Vos said Monday the first bill the Assembly will vote on is a pre-existing conditions protection bill, but Fitzgerald was less bullish on the legislation’s chances in the Senate.

“I don’t want to over promise on that right out of the gate because … we’re back in the same position we were before where the Assembly had passed something and we’re over here working on trying to get the votes,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the effort is still a priority.

Fitzgerald said he wants the Senate to take up a pre-existing conditions bill that will earn votes from members of both parties.

Evers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that nothing the Legislature passes could offer protections as strong as what’s enshrined in the Obama-era federal law, arguing that the state cannot require employers that self-fund their insurance plans to cover pre-existing conditions.

Evers campaigned on a promise to withdraw Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit seeking to overturn Obamacare, but his ability to do so without legislative approval was removed in a set of laws passed by the Republican-led Legislature after he was elected. A federal judged in Texas ruled the ACA unconstitutional in December, but it is still being enforced as the lawsuit is appealed.

Evers has signed four executive orders since he was sworn in Monday afternoon.

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