STOUGHTON — Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday indicated he would be open to signing legislation supported by Democrats that would not allow insurance companies to charge people with preexisting conditions more if they have a lapse in coverage.
In his State of the State address on Wednesday, Walker plans to ask lawmakers to approve a set of three proposals he calls his "health care stability plan." One of his requests is for the Senate to pass a bill approved by the Assembly in June barring insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.
Democrats oppose the legislation because it would allow insurers to charge more if a patient has a gap in coverage. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, had introduced a preexisting conditions bill last year that would not have allowed insurers to charge more after a coverage lapse.
The legislation would only apply if the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, were repealed. The current federal health care law already protects people with preexisting conditions.
"Does he understand what the current federal law that he has spent years trying to dismantle already does?" asked Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, on Twitter.
Asked about Democrats' concerns, Walker told reporters he'll leave it up to lawmakers to work out the details.
"I want to sign the bill that protects preexisting conditions, so I'm not saying it has to be this bill or that bill. I just want them to get it done," Walker said following an event at Stoughton Hospital. "I'm just saying give me a bill I can sign into law that will guarantee we protect preexisting conditions."
Walker outlined the basics of his plan at the hospital, where he told employees and administrators the most common health care concern he hears from people throughout the state is the need for stability. He said people tend to be more concerned with instability than with any particular policy.
The governor has been a vocal critic of Obamacare and has refused to accept the federal Medicaid expansion. He still opposes accepting the expansion.
Under his proposal, Walker said, "no matter what happens in Washington, preexisting conditions will be covered" in Wisconsin.
The governor had suggested last spring that he would consider opting Wisconsin out of Obamacare's pre-existing condition requirements if the federal government allowed it, but quickly promised he would not make those changes.
With legislative approval, Walker also plans to request a federal reinsurance waiver in an effort to lower premiums for the more than 200,000 Wisconsinites who are covered under the individual market. He is also seeking a permanent extension on Wisconsin's SeniorCare program, which allows seniors age 65 and older to purchase prescription drugs at a lower rate.
Erpenbach has questioned why Walker didn't support the preexisting conditions legislation when he and Riemer introduced it last summer. He has also raised doubts as to whether the federal government would grant Wisconsin a permanent extension for SeniorCare.
"Seniors have basically had to beg Governor Walker to renew it for the past ten years," Erpenbach said in a statement. "Again — glad he is finally willing to commit to always renewing the SeniorCare waiver — something he has never been willing to do before."
Walker said there is "no doubt" the federal government will cooperate, but said it's possible the waiver would be extended for a 10-year period rather than permanently.