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Wisconsin lawmakers to take up Walker health insurance plan

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MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to help reduce health insurance premiums for people buying plans on the private market in Wisconsin is up for legislative approval on Tuesday, as both the Senate and Assembly meet to take up several key planks of the Republican governor’s re-election platform.

In addition to the reinsurance bill, which was up in both the Senate and Assembly, the Senate planned to give final approval to Walker’s welfare overhaul package that includes increasing work requirements for able-bodied adults and imposing the requirement on parents of school-aged children for the first time.

The Assembly planned to vote on Walker’s $6.8 million marketing plan designed to entice millennials to Wisconsin from nearby Midwest cities to help with a worker shortage problem. The campaign is expected to focus on Detroit and the Twin Cities, but Democrats have derided it saying it’s Walker’s policies that have led to young people leaving the state.

Another Walker priority, spending $50 million a year on rural economic development programs, was up in the Assembly. The money would be available in the 56 most rural counties in the state. And both houses were expected to vote on increasing the cap on a popular historic rehabilitation tax credit from $500,000 per project to $3.5 million.

Those and other high-profile bills were scheduled to be taken up starting Tuesday as the Assembly races to complete its work for the year by Thursday. The Senate scheduled one more day of voting next month, but could also delay some of its planned votes Tuesday into Wednesday.

The Assembly planned to focus on health-related bills on Tuesday, then tackle anti-crime proposals and the bill to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system on Wednesday.

Walker’s reinsurance bill won bipartisan support in the Legislature’s budget committee last week, which voted to go ahead with the plan even though the state did not identify where it would find the estimated $50 million to $80 million needed to pay for it. The $200 million proposal is counting on at least $150 million coming from the federal government. The idea has found broad support among health insurance providers, doctors and the medical community.

Under the bill, the state would be authorized to seek a federal waiver to offer a reinsurance program to lower premium costs. Such a program would cover at least 50 percent of medical claims costing between $50,000 and $200,000.

Walker has touted it as a way to shore of the state’s private insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Rates increased on average of 36 percent this year for people buying health insurance in the private marketplace, not counting federal subsidies. Horizon Government Affairs estimates that rates in Wisconsin would drop 13 percent in 2019 and 12 percent in 2020 under the proposed reinsurance program created.

The Assembly also planned to vote on a proposal speeding through the Legislature that would allow businesses in the same chamber of commerce or industry association to join together to pay for their employee health care costs. It’s similar to how large employers self-insure as a way to save money.

The Republican-backed bill was introduced just two weeks ago and its supporters see it as a way for smaller businesses to manage increasing health care costs. But Democrats and other critics worry that the move allowing them to self-insure, rather than buy group health insurance, could destabilize the marketplace.

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