It’s no secret that someone’s past behavior is the best predictor of what they’ll do in the future. That’s why Wisconsinites should be deeply concerned that Leah Vukmir has consistently sided with powerful insurance companies and against Wisconsinites in need of health care coverage.
Nothing better exemplifies this truth than Vukmir’s years-long efforts to block coverage for sick Wisconsinites’ oral chemotherapy treatments.
Back in 2011, a bipartisan coalition of state legislators — including myself, as well as Republican senators and Vukmir allies Alberta Darling and Van Wanggaard — came together to introduce a bill that would have required insurance companies to cover oral chemotherapy treatments which, at the time, cost cancer patients tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses.
The bipartisan bill received support from a number of organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and the Marshfield Clinic. But Vukmir blocked the legislation in the health committee she chaired by refusing to hold hearings — let alone a vote — on the legislation. With nowhere to go, the bill failed.
Despite Vukmir’s obstructionism, Wisconsin cancer patients kept fighting for expanded coverage. But Vukmir similarly kept fighting to protect her insurance industry backers. Three years later, Leah Vukmir was the only state senator to twice vote against an oral chemotherapy coverage bill that was eventually passed by both chambers and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker. Again, the bill was broadly bipartisan, earning praise from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. And again, Vukmir opposed it — once more siding with powerful insurance companies over Wisconsinites with cancer.
By 2014, it should have been clear to anyone paying attention that Leah Vukmir is a reliable vote for letting insurance companies write their own rules and deny coverage to sick Wisconsinites. That was certainly my clear takeaway from the 2009 debate to make insurance companies cover hearing aids and cochlear implants coverage for hearing-impaired kids.
Back in 2009, families could be expected to pay as much as $100,000 out-of-pocket for cochlear implants and tens of thousands of dollars, over time, for a child’s hearing aids.
With Senate Bill 27 we sought to change that by expanding coverage requirements and shifting the cost burden from families to insurance companies. Unsurprisingly, insurance companies and special interest groups lined up to lobby against the bill. And unsurprisingly, Leah Vukmir was right there with them, echoing insurance industry talking points. Ultimately, Vukmir was one of 16 legislators to vote against the measure to “help deaf children hear,” as one news report put it.
The moment was a big win for Wisconsin’s deaf community. But as far as Leah Vukmir was concerned, the fight wasn’t over. Two years later, Vukmir sought to introduce a proposal that would let insurance companies get around Wisconsin coverage requirements — not just for kids’ cochlear implants, but also for autism, and a wide range of other medical conditions.
In the face of heated public backlash, the bill was never introduced. But the episode illustrates a profound truth about Leah Vukmir: When it comes to putting her insurance company backers first, Leah Vukmir fights hard and doesn’t give up easily.
As Leah Vukmir today runs for U.S. Senate, I’m not surprised to see her standing by her record of siding with insurance companies over Wisconsin patients. Vukmir never had any shame back then, so why would she show contrition now?
Today, however, the stakes have changed. If Vukmir is elected to the U.S. Senate, she would be the deciding vote to pass a Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and gut its protections for Wisconsinites who have pre-existing conditions. Vice President Mike Pence confirmed as much himself last month during a visit to Wisconsin.
That means health care is on the ballot this November, and that Wisconsinites have a clear choice in the U.S. Senate race.
I know Leah Vukmir. She has fought hard in our state Legislature. The problem is that Vukmir has always fought to let powerful insurance companies write their own rules and deny insurance coverage to Wisconsinites in need.
Those are the stakes this election for 2.4 million Wisconsinites who have pre-existing conditions, and it’s why I’m supporting Tammy Baldwin.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, represents Wisconsin Senate District 27.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.