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August 23, 2019

7/6/2019 7:30:00 AM
Political Digest

Evers signs Lincoln Hills bill

Gov. Tony Evers last Friday has signed into law a bill which makes a number of technical changes to 2017 Wisconsin Act 185, including modifying the deadlines related to county-run juvenile facilities, modifying the deadline for closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, and clarifying the process for transferring between facilities.

"Our top priority remains getting our kids out of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and closer to home as soon as we safely and responsibly can, and our agencies are working to collaborate and find efficiencies in this process," Evers said. "I look forward to having a larger conversation about reforming our juvenile justice system. We need to focus on investing in front-end prevention, alternatives, and diversion when youth intersect with the justice system, and trauma-informed, evidence-based practices."

MacIver: Education activists turn to misinformation to distort GOP budget

In discussions and debates over the Joint Finance Committee's $15.22 billion Department of Public Instruction (DPI) 2019-21 budget, some K-12 public education activists have exploited the chaos of budget season in an apparent attempt to mislead the public into thinking the JFC-passed budget actually reduces the state's budget for K-12.

That's the conservative MacIver Institute's take on the budget the Legislature sent to Gov. Tony Evers.

MacIver quoted state treasurer Sarah Godlewski as an example: "When you're gonna cut $900 million from our public education budget, and then allow special ed to go over a billion in the hole, that's insane."

It also quoted MPS board member Megan O'Halloran: "We thought we were going to have $1.4 billion reinvested in our schools ...after it went through the Joint Finance Committee, it came out $900 million short."

MacIver says that rhetoric echoed that of Democrats throughout the budget process, but their claim that K-12 funding is being "cut" - which was only sometimes accompanied by the caveat that that was compared to Gov. Tony Evers' budget proposal was a tremendous disservice to perhaps the most important public policy debate that occurs in Wisconsin, the debate over the state budget.

The simple fact is K-12 education is receiving a $665 million funding increase, MacIver stated.

"Regardless of what Gov. Evers proposed in his budget, this sizable funding bump is the exact opposite of a cut," MacIver stated.

Gruszynski and Hansen unveil student veteran renter protection bill

In an effort to protect student veterans across Wisconsin, Rep. Staush Gruszynski (D-Green Bay), Rep. Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin), and Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) have authored a bill they call the Student Veteran Renter Protection Act.

This bipartisan legislation was written in response to the Department of Veteran Affairs' (VA) failure to properly administer payment of housing allowances to student veterans receiving benefits through the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program, the lawmakers say. The administrative error by the VA delayed payments to as many as 180,000 student veterans nationwide in late 2018, placing veterans' housing in jeopardy.

"This bill will protect student veterans from late fees or eviction in future cases where VA housing allowances are delayed or incorrect," Gruszynski said.

Under current law, a landlord may give a tenant who is late in paying rent a notice to vacate within at least five days. Under this bill, student veterans who receive housing allowances from the VA and who notify their landlord that they are receiving housing allowances would be given a 30-day grace period if they show documentation their allowance has been delayed and the tenant pays the rent within 30 days after the notice from the landlord is received.

As of 2018, there were a total of 388 student veterans enrolled at UW-Green Bay and 4,769 throughout the entire UW System.

"There is no excuse for these veterans being treated this way by their own government," said Hansen, who serves on the Senate Committee on Transportation, Veterans and Military Affairs. "It's unfortunate that we need to pass a bill like this to make sure no veterans are forced out of their homes because the federal government can't get its act together and get them the benefits they've earned on time. Given the bipartisan support for our bill I'm hoping we can get it passed when the Legislature convenes in the fall."

Wisconsin Medicaid expansion lowered anti-diabetic drug costs 70%

UW School of Pharmacy researchers Nam Hyo Kim and Kevin Look have found that Wisconsin's partial expansion of Medicaid in 2014 dramatically cut costs for anti-diabetic medications for childless adults.

Kim and Look partnered with the UW School of Medicine and Public Health professor Marguerite Burns.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services expects 40% of Wisconsin adults to develop it in their lifetime.

A new study by a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers shows Wisconsin Medicaid's 2014 coverage expansion had a tremendous impact on making anti-diabetic drugs more affordable for one of the state's populations that needs them most: childless adults with low income.

Although Wisconsin did not participate in the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion, legislators approved a limited expansion through a Section 1115 Medicaid Demonstration Waiver. Effective April 2014, this waiver expanded coverage for childless adults earning up to 100% of the federal poverty level.

Previously, this group had been covered by the BadgerCare Plus Core Plan, which covered fewer medications and had higher copays for generic and brand-name drugs. Transitioning from the Core Plan to the more comprehensive Standard Plan dropped out-of-pocket costs for anti-diabetic medication by an average of 70% per childless adult, or $36.59 per year.

The expanded coverage also correlated with a 4% increase in childless adults using anti-diabetic medications, such as insulin and oral medications like metformin. That increase is largely driven by a growing number of people using medication, suggesting affordability might have been an obstacle before the coverage expansion.

UW-Madison School of Pharmacy postdoctoral scholar Nam Hyo Kim and professor Kevin Look, working in collaboration with professor Marguerite Burns in the Department of Population Health Sciences, co-authored the study published in the July issue of Health Affairs.

They evaluated Medicaid data from April 2013 to March 2015 to capture a full year before and after the change. To account for possible changes in medication costs and usage not related to the Medicaid expansion, the team used Wisconsin parents and caretakers who had already been on the Standard Plan as a control group.

"Our analysis shows that childless adults in Wisconsin tend to be in worse health and older than the parents and caretakers in the state, and they have a high need for anti-diabetic medications," says Kim, who led the study. "Medication use is really important for them to manage their health, and medications for diabetes are getting more expensive over time."

The study addresses a dearth of research into the effects of drug coverage expansion, despite ample research on what happens when drug coverage is restricted. Its focus on the understudied low-income Medicaid population also sets it apart.

Health Affairs editor-in-chief Alan Weil says access to life-saving drugs among vulnerable populations is a critical issue the journal wants to address.

"The findings of this study are relevant not only to policymakers in Wisconsin, but to state and federal officials around the country considering how Medicaid affects access to care," he says.

The link between coverage and lower out-of-pocket costs could assist lawmakers as many states, including Wisconsin, consider further expanding Medicaid and shoring up gaps in health coverage. This work might also be relevant for other populations with high health care needs, such as older adults on Medicare, and privately insured citizens.

"The focus of this study corresponds with populations targeted by the Affordable Care Act and other important issues in health care policy right now," says Look, who is currently leading an evaluation of the Wisconsin SeniorCare program for low-income seniors. "These results have implications beyond the relatively small group we looked at and can inform the larger state and national discussions about health care and the effects of coverage expansions."

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