Democrats on the Joint Committee on Finance called on Republicans Tuesday to reconsider Medicaid expansion as Wisconsin’s COVID-19 outbreak worsens. Gov. Tony Evers also called on the legislature to come together to address the pandemic during a media briefing Tuesday.
The Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Finance quickly adjourned today. According to Democrats on the committee, 169 days have passed since the Legislature passed bipartisan legislation responding to the pandemic, with safety nets passed this spring expiring at the end of the year.
Democrats on the committee urged Republicans to address the pandemic.
“Today, we could have worked together to accept the Medicaid expansion, which 39 other states have done. This alone would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and give tens of thousands of Wisconsinites access to needed health care,” said Rep. Debra Kostle, D-Janeville.
Democrats also renewed calls for Medicaid expansion.
“During the biggest pandemic in over a century, we should be doing everything in our power to increase access to affordable health care,” Kostle said. “It is disappointing that Wisconsin Republicans have taken no action for 24 weeks to help people in need.”
Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, also urged the committee to consider expanding the program.
“At a time when ensuring access to health care, fighting for equity and justice and protecting taxpayers and our economy are central themes in our conversations about creating a better future for children and families, few things would make as significant of an impact to all three as Medicaid Expansion,” said Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee.
The calls come as Wisconsin sees an increase in positive test results.
On Monday, the State Department of Health Services reported a positivity rate of 21.9 percent. This has brought the average daily new case count over the last seven days to 2,155. Two deaths were also reported Monday, bringing the state total to 1,283 deaths.
In early September, cases surged among young people mostly on college campuses. While young people in college towns still continue to report high case numbers, the outbreak has spread to other areas and age groups.
“We can’t blame it all on college campuses,” Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at University of Wisconsin Health, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Pothof explained his concern that the early-September surge among young people on college campuses may have given people in other areas of the state a false sense of security.
Gov. Tony Evers addressed the surge in cases at a media briefing Tuesday and called on the legislature to address the pandemic.
“We’d love to work with the legislature. They haven’t been around for awhile, and frankly we brought up some rule changes to mitigate some of these things. They indicated no interest,” said Evers.
Evers also addressed a lawsuit brought forward by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty that seeks to strike down Evers’ mask mandate, which was renewed Sept. 22.
“In fact even with this most recent mandate that we are having across the state the Republicans and their allies are now suing us in court to stop that from happening because apparently they don’t feel it is a good option for the people of Wisconsin to remain safe,” explained Evers. “If they have some good ideas, let's have at it.”
When asked why the situation is worse in Wisconsin, DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm pointed toward Evers’ limited abilities after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down his “safer at home” order in May. Under that ruling, the legislature’s rulemaking committee would need to approve a future order.
“This fundamentally stems from the ruling in mid-May that restricted many of the tools that we have to mitigate this disease,” Palm said.