Governor Announces Badger Bounce Back Plan

April 20, 2020

Governor Evers today announced Wisconsin's "Badger Bounce Back" plan which outlines important criteria for Wisconsin to be able to reopen its economy in phases and includes steps to make sure workers and businesses are prepared to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so. In coordination with this announcement, at the direction of the governor, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm issued Emergency Order #31 establishing the process and outlining the phases of the plan. The emergency order is available here.

The Badger Bounce Back plan is informed in part by the President's Guidelines for Opening Up America Again that was issued by the White House on April 16, 2020. Currently, Wisconsin does not meet the criteria the White House established to start reopening our state. The Badger Bounce Back plan takes important steps to get the state of Wisconsin there.

The goal of the Badger Bounce Back plan is to decrease cases and deaths to a low level, and increase capacity in our healthcare system so the phased reopening of businesses is possible. As part of that plan the state will be working to increase access to more testing and expand lab capacity. Under the Badger Bounce Back plan, everyone who needs a test should get a test. The state is setting a goal of 85,000 tests per week, averaging about 12,000 tests per day. More information on the state's testing efforts was released earlier today, and is available for review here.

Next, the state will be expanding contact tracing and more aggressively tracking the spread with the goal of every Wisconsinite who tests positive being interviewed within 24 hours of receiving their test results and their contacts being interviewed within 48 hours of test results.

Additionally, the state will continue to pursue every avenue to grow Wisconsin’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare and public safety entities to conduct COVID-19 testing, patient care, and public safety work. Finally, the plan works to bolster healthcare system capacity where patients can be treated without crisis care and there are more robust testing programs in place for at-risk healthcare workers.

The state will be looking for a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses and COVID-19 symptoms reported within a 14-day period, and a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period. When the state has seen these efforts be successful, Wisconsin can begin to turn the dial, re-open the state, and get businesses and workers back on their feet.

The Badger Bounce Back plan is available here. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s portion of the Badger Bounce Back plan aimed at helping to ensure workers and businesses are prepared and ready to bounce back is available here. The Badger Bounce Back plan in brief is also available here.

Governor Extends Wisconsin's Safer at Home Order

April 16, 2020

Governor Evers today directed Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm to extend the Safer at Home order from April 24, 2020 to 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 26, 2020, or until a superseding order is issued. The order implements some new measures to ensure safety and support the progress we've made in containing COVID-19, but also allows certain activities to start up again.

The extension of the Safer at Home order includes a few changes. Some changes allow more businesses and activities to open back up, while other changes help make businesses safer for employees and customers.
The changes in this order go into effect on April 24, 2020. The order will remain in effect until 8 a.m. on May 26, 2020.
The order is available online (link). The Governor’s full press release is also available online (link).

COVID-19 Volunteer Program Announced

April 10, 2020

Governor Evers announced that the state is seeking volunteers to support Wisconsin's healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Active and retired healthcare professionals and those who wish to help in non-clinical support positions are encouraged to sign up to volunteer through the Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry (WEAVR).

The number of patients in Wisconsin who need to be treated for COVID-19 is expected to surge in the coming weeks. Building a network of available volunteers now will greatly reduce the hardships on hospitals and clinics that would not normally have the capacity to care for the increase in patients.

Both active and retired healthcare professionals can volunteer for critical clinical roles by entering their information into the WEAVR, a secure, password-protected, web-based volunteer registration system for healthcare and behavioral health professionals. Individuals who are not licensed professionals are also encouraged to sign up to volunteer for non-clinical support positions.

Volunteers will be assigned to locations across Wisconsin to support ongoing efforts related to the COVID-19 national emergency. Those who are willing to travel should note that when they sign up. All volunteers should also be aware that they will be required to complete a background check.
The full copy of the Governor’s press release is available online (link).

Wisconsin Granted Federal Disaster Declaration Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

April 4, 2020

Governor Evers announced that Wisconsin has been granted a major disaster declaration for the entire state of Wisconsin, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration provides access to Public Assistance programs for all 72 Wisconsin counties and the state’s federally recognized tribes.

Gov. Evers earlier this week requested that the federal government provide the following programs to support the state’s response: Public Assistance, Direct Assistance, Hazard Mitigation (statewide), and certain Individual Assistance programs; Crisis Counseling, Community Disaster Loans and the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notified the state today that it is granting the request for Public Assistance to help provide reimbursement for emergency protective measures taken by state and local governments in their response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The declaration also authorizes direct Federal Assistance which means when the State and local governments lack the capability to perform or to contract for eligible emergency work and/or debris removal, the State may request that the work be accomplished by a federal agency. The governor’s additional requests for assistance remain under review.

The major disaster declaration covers assistance to public entities, and will cover eligible projects submitted by counties, cities, townships, tribes, and certain private, not-for-profit organizations. Local governments in the declared counties are now eligible for federal assistance and should contact county emergency management directors for further information. Under the program, FEMA provides 75 percent of eligible costs, while the remaining 25 percent is the responsibility of state and local agencies.
The Governor’s full press release is available online (link).

Wisconsin DHS Announces Resilient Wisconsin Initiative

April 3, 2020

The Department of Health Services announced the creation of the Resilient Wisconsin Initiative (website) on Friday, which provides Wisconsinites with resources to cope with stress and mental health challenges from COVID-19.
DHS recommends that Wisconsinites do the following:
• Get the three goods. That’s good-for-you foods, a good night’s sleep, and a good amount of exercise every day.
• Stay connected to your support system. Reach out to family and friends, colleagues, and community groups in whatever way you can—calls, texts, video chats, and more.
• Spend time away from focusing on COVID-19. Don’t let the pandemic take over what you read, watch, or talk about. And don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to talk about something else.
• Reduce anxiety by reducing your risk. Stay safer at home. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Stay at least 6 feet apart while running essential errands at the store, pharmacy, or gas station. Knowing you’re doing everything you can to stay healthy can help you worry less.
• Check in with yourself. Everyone’s reaction to stress is different. Difficulty concentrating or sleeping, irritability, fatigue, and even stomachaches can be normal. But if you find you are overwhelmed or having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, reach out for help right away. Text HOPELINE to 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Emergency Order 16 FAQ and Telehealth Guidance
Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services

April 1, 2020

The Department of Safety and Professional Services (Department) has received numerous inquiries regarding Emergency Order 16 and also the status of telemedicine/telehealth practice as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The emergency covers a wide range of issues across many health care professions. The order took action that will make it easier to quickly expand the health care workforce by readmitted those with expired licenses and by welcoming providers from other states. It will also enhance flexibility so providers can more effectively respond to areas of greatest need. Please read the order, linked above, and also reference this Frequently Asked Questions document for clarifications. Both address individuals who have expired licenses and wish to return to practice.

Also, the order addresses telemedicine specifically, but we have also received questions about telehealth practice for other providers. The practice of telehealth is generally allowed under existing Wisconsin law unless there is some profession-specific requirement or restriction. Credential holders must use their professional judgment to determine if telehealth is appropriate for the patient or client being treated, to abide by all other applicable rules of practice and professional conduct, and to be properly credentialed or authorized to practice in the state of Wisconsin. If someone can practice in Wisconsin via an Emergency Order, a compact, or a temporary or permanent license, that individual can practice telehealth in Wisconsin and provide services to Wisconsin residents to the same extent as similarly licensed Wisconsin practitioners.

The Wisconsin Medical Examining Board has the only telemedicine rule currently in effect in Wisconsin. This rule may be found at Wis. Admin. Code Med chapter 24. While this rule applies only to the Medical Examining Board, many of the concepts in this rule may be informative to credential holders in other professions. Here is a link to this rule. Note that portions of this rule were suspended when Governor Evers issued Emergency Order 16. Please review both Med chapter 24 as well as the statutory and rule provisions governing your profession when evaluating telemedicine/telehealth practice options during the COVID-10 public health emergency.

The Department is not able to answer legal questions regarding what the standard of care requires for any specific profession or any specific situation a credential holder may encounter. If practice-related questions arise, the Department encourages credential holders to consult with a supervisor, with their own private or institutional legal counsel, with their colleagues within the profession, or other sources familiar with their profession’s standards of practice. Profession-related statutes and rules can be found by clicking on a profession under the Rule/Statutes column here.

Also, there have been recent changes to Medicaid reimbursement of telehealth services. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued guidance on telehealth reimbursement changes and status during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The guidance is available here. The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has also sent this letter regarding related insurance (malpractice) issues to insurers.

This information will be posted to our website. Please visit often, as we are updating it daily as decisions are made and new information is available.

Sincerely,

Dawn B. Crim, Secretary-designee

TEMPORARY LICENSE APPLICATION

EMERGENCY ORDER #16 RENEWAL FORM

HEALTH CARE FACILITY NOTIFICATION OF TEMPORARY PROVIDER PRACTICE

New Marquette Law School Poll Finds Strong Support for Coronavirus Closings

April 1, 2020

A new Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin registered voters finds strong support for government actions to control the coronavirus pandemic, even as the poll also shows these actions to be having a substantial financial impact on voters.

The survey found:

  • Eighty-six percent say that it was appropriate to close schools and businesses, and restrict public gatherings, while 10 percent say that this was an overreaction to the pandemic;
  • A large majority of voters approve of Gov. Tony Evers’ handling of the coronavirus issue, with 76 percent saying they approve and 17 percent saying they disapprove;
  • A majority, 51 percent, approve of President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, while 46 percent disapprove;
  • Opinion is divided on holding the April 7 spring election as scheduled, with 51 percent saying the date should be moved and 44 percent saying it should be held as scheduled.

A full copy of the survey is available online (link)

Wisconsin LFB Published Report on State Funding in CARES Act

April 1, 2020

Wisconsin nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) published an analysis of the approximately $2.2 billion Wisconsin is expected to receive from the from the Coronavirus Relief Fund created by the CARES Act. About $1.8 billion would go to the state government while the remaining funds would go to the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and Dane County. The LFB has also provided Wisconsin-specific estimates for some of the programmatic increases provided by the stimulus package.  That report is available online (link).

The report includes a summary on all programs funded in the Act, including:

  • Public Health Emergency Preparedness funding from CDC;
  • Administration for Community Living
  • Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund
  • Direct Payments to State and Local Governments
  • Transportation, Housing and Unemployment Programs

Details on the full $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package are also available in the full bill available online (link).  The following is a summary of some of the healthcare related provisions in the bill.

Health and Long-term Care

Grants to Hospitals and Health Care Providers: Provides $100 billion to reimburse, through grants or other mechanisms, eligible health care providers for health care related expenses or lost revenues that are attributable to coronavirus. Medicaid and Medicare providers are included in the definition of health care provider. To apply, providers must submit an application to the Secretary of Health and Human Services that includes a statement justifying their need.

Delay of Disproportionate Share Hospital Reductions. Delays scheduled reductions in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments through November 30, 2020.

Increasing Provider Funding through Immediate Medicare Sequester Relief. Temporarily lifts the Medicare sequester from May 1 through December 31, 2020, boosting payments for hospital, physician, nursing home, home health, and other care by 2%. The Medicare sequester would be extended by one-year beyond current law to provide immediate relief without worsening Medicare’s long-term financial outlook.

Medicare Add-on for Inpatient Hospital COVID-19 Patients. Increases the payment that would otherwise be made to a hospital for treating a patient admitted with COVID-19 by 20%. It would build on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decision to expedite use of a COVID-19 diagnosis to enable better surveillance as well as trigger appropriate payment for these complex patients. This add-on payment would be available through the duration of the COVID-19 emergency period.

Grants to the V.A.: Provides $14.4 billion to the Veteran’s Administration for medical services.

CDC: Provides $4.3 billion to the CDC. Of these funds, $1.5 billion is set aside for grants to states, territories and tribes to help carry out surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory capacity, infection control, mitigation, communications, and other preparedness and response activities.

Strategic National Stockpile: Provides $16 billion in funding for the Strategic National Stockpile to procure personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies.

Hospital Preparedness: Provides $250 million for grants to improve the capacity of healthcare facilities to respond to medical events.

Rural Health: Provides $180 million to expand services and capacity for rural hospitals, telehealth, poison control centers.

Health Savings Accounts for Telehealth Services. Allows a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA) to cover telehealth services prior to a patient reaching the deductible.

Providing Hospitals Medicare Advance Payments. Expands, for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency period, an existing Medicare accelerated payment program. Specifically, qualified facilities would be able to request up to a six month advanced lump sum or periodic payment. This advanced payment would be based on net reimbursement represented by unbilled discharges or unpaid bills. Most hospital types could elect to receive up to 100% of the prior period payments, with Critical Access Hospitals able to receive up to 125%. Finally, a qualifying hospital would not be required to start paying down the loan for four months, and would also have at least 12 months to complete repayment without a requirement to pay interest.

Extension of Physician Work Geographic Index Floor. Extends payments for the work component of physician fees in areas where labor cost is determined to be lower than the national average through December 1, 2020.

National Academies Report on America’s Medical Product Supply Chain Security: Requires the Department of Health and Human Services to enter into an agreement with the National Academies to examine and report on the security of the United States medical product supply chain. Part of the report requires the examination of the United States’ dependence on critical drugs and devices that are sourced or manufactured outside of the U.S.

Requiring the Strategic National Stockpile to Include Certain Supplies: Requires the strategic national stockpile to include personal protective equipment, ancillary medical supplies, and other applicable supplies required for the administration of drugs, vaccines and other biological products, medical devices, and diagnostic tests.

Preventing Medical Device Shortages: Requires manufacturers of medical devices that are critical during public health emergencies to notify the federal government of any discontinuance or interruption to manufacturing of the device that could disrupt the supply of the device in the U.S. The information will be used to compile a list of devices that are determined to be in short supply.

Rapid Coverage of Preventive Services and Vaccines for Coronavirus: Requires insurers to cover without cost-sharing any qualifying coronavirus preventive service. Qualifying preventive services include any evidence-based item, service, or immunization that is intended to prevent or mitigate coronavirus disease.

Increased Funding for Health Centers: Provides $1.3 billion in additional funding to community health centers in fiscal year 2020.

Telehealth Network and Resource Center Grants: Provides $29 million per year through 2025 and reauthorizes Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant programs that promote the use of telehealth technologies for health care delivery, education, and health information services.

Rural health care services outreach, rural health network development, and small health care provider quality improvement grant programs. Provides $79.5 million per year through 2025 and reauthorizes HRSA grant programs to strengthen rural community health by focusing on quality improvement, increasing health care access, coordination of care, and integration of services.

Limitation on liability for volunteer health care professionals during COVID-19 emergency response. Makes clear that doctors who provide volunteer medical services during the public health emergency related to COVID-19 have liability protections. In order to have the liability protections provided by the bill, a volunteer provider must be acting within the scope of their license, registration or certification as defined by the state.

Health Care Workforce

Reauthorization of health professions workforce programs.

Provides $51.4 million per year between 2021 and 2025 for scholarships to health care students. The funding is given to eligible entities, which includes schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, optometry, public health, etc.

Provides $48.9 million per year for the primary care training and enhancement program. Adds language prioritizing grant awards to programs that train physicians in rural areas.

Provides $41.2 million for eligible entities to establish health care workforce educational programs.

Provides $1.1 million per year for a loan repayment program for medical, dental and nursing students who agree to serve as faculty following graduation.

Provides $15 million per year to provide educational assistance to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue health care education.

Extension of Demonstration Projects to Address Health Professions Workforce Needs: Extends the Health Professions Opportunity Grants (HPOG) program through November 30, 2020 at current funding levels. This program provides funding to help low-income individuals obtain education and training in high-demand, well-paid, health care jobs.

Education and training relating to geriatrics. Provides $40.7 million per year and reauthorizes and updates Title VII of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA), which pertains to programs to support clinician training and faculty development, including the training of practitioners in family medicine, general internal medicine, geriatrics, pediatrics, and other medical specialties. It emphasizes integration of geriatric care into existing service delivery locations and care across settings, including home- and community-based services. The Secretary may provide  awardees with additional support for activities in areas of demonstrated need, which may include education and training for home health workers, family caregivers, and direct care workers on care for older adults. Eligible entities could receive awards of at least $75,000.

Economic Relief

 Recovery Rebates for Americans: Provides a one-time payment of $1,200 to individuals with incomes below $75,000 or a one-time payment of  $2,400 for joint filers with incomes below $150,000. Payments are increased by $500 per child. The bill requires the one-time payments to be made as soon as possible.

Relief Payments to States, Tribal Governments and Local Units of Government: Provides $150 billion in direct payments to states, tribal governments and local units of government with. To qualify, local governments must have populations of more than 500,000 people. Payments are required to be used to cover expenditures related to COVID-19 that occur between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020. Expenditures must not have been accounted for in the state or local government’s most recent budget. The bill requires the Treasury Secretary  to make these payments within 30 days of enactment.

 Loans for Small Businesses, Non-profits, Contractors and Self-Employed Individuals. Allows nonprofits and other businesses with less than 500 employees to get loans from the Small Business Administration if they were adversely impacted by COVID-19. Loans can be used to cover payroll costs, health care benefits, mortgage or rent payments, utilities or interest on debt. Borrowers will be eligible for loan forgiveness if they maintain employees and their salaries. The eligibility period runs from February 15, 2020 to June 30, 2020. Maximum loan amounts will be determined using the organization's average monthly payroll amounts over a one year period. The bill appropriates $349 billion for this loan program.

Employee retention credit for employers subject to closure due to COVID-19. Provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by employers to employees during the COVID-19 crisis. The credit is available to employers whose (1) operations were fully or partially suspended, due to a COVID-19-related shutdown order, or (2) gross receipts declined by more than 50 percent when compared to the same quarter in the prior year.

Small Business Administration Disaster Loans: Provides $562 million to the Disaster Loan Program.

Broadband and Telehealth

Rural Utilities Service--Distance Learning, Telemedicine and Broadband Program: Provides $25 million for telemedicine and distance learning services in rural areas.

Reconnect Pilot: Provides $100 million for grants for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.

Federal Communications Commission Telehealth: Provides $200 million to the FCC to respond to COVID-19. This includes supporting health care providers by providing telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services.

Higher Education and Student Loans

Temporary Relief for Federal Student Loan Borrowers: Requires the Secretary to defer student loan payments, principal, and interest for 6 months, through September 30, 2020, without penalty to the borrower for all federally owned loans.

Adjustments of Subsidized Loan Limits. For students who dropped out of school as a result of COVID -19 excludes the term from counting toward lifetime subsidized loan eligibility.

Exclusion from Federal Pell Grant Duration Limit. For students who dropped out of school as a result of COVID -19 excludes the term from counting toward lifetime Pell eligibility.

Institutional Refund and Federal Student Loan Flexibility. For students who dropped out of school as a result of COVID -19, the student is not required to return Pell grants or federal student loans to the Secretary. Waives the requirement that institutions calculate the amount of grant or loan assistance that the institution must return to the Secretary in the case of students who dropped out of school as a result of COVID-19

Exclusion for certain employer payments of student loans: Allows employers to provide a student loan repayment benefit to employees on a tax-free basis. Under the provision, an employer may contribute up to $5,250 annually toward an employee’s student loans, and such payment would be excluded from the employee’s income. The $5,250 cap applies to both the new student loan repayment benefit as well as other educational assistance (e.g., tuition, fees, books) provided by the employer under current law. The provision applies to any student loan payments made by an employer on behalf of an employee after date of enactment and before January 1, 2021.

 

Governor Evers Announces Second Package of Comprehensive Legislative Proposals Providing COVID-19 Relief and Support

April 1, 2020

Governor Evers today announced a second package of comprehensive legislative proposals that would provide critical investments in health services, support for essential workers, and assistance for Wisconsin families and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s announcement today comes just days after Gov. Evers announced a first piece of legislation, which included additional funding and flexibility for public health professionals and healthcare professionals, a repeal of the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance, expanding and improving access to telehealth services, among many other proposals.

As additional needs and issues arise from agencies and stakeholders, the governor is committed to working with legislators to find bipartisan solutions. The governor’s office welcomes the opportunity to hear and consider any proposals that legislators have to address the impacts of COVID-19 on the health and well-being of Wisconsin residents, businesses and communities.

This package, among many other proposals, includes:

  • Increasing funding for Medicaid providers via supplemental payments and rate increases to support the healthcare system’s response to the public health emergency;
  • Establishing a fund to reduce providers’ uncompensated care costs targeting reimbursement for treatment-related costs for uninsured individuals;
  • Establishing a COVID-19 reinsurance program to reduce health insurance premiums;
  • Providing grant funding to provide food assistance and meal delivery;
  • Prohibiting utility cooperatives from disconnecting customers and prohibiting land-lord directed disconnections from rental units during a public health emergency;
  • Ensuring workers receive back payment for any lost unemployment insurance benefits as a result of the delay in suspending the one-week waiting period;
  • Providing supplemental payments to child care providers, if that provider needed to shut down during the public health emergency;
  • Allowing households to apply for heating assistance under the low-income energy assistance program anytime during the 2020 calendar year;
  • Increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families;
  • Providing municipalities the flexibility to implement multiple installments of three or more payments for 2020 property taxes;
  • Waiving interest and penalties on delinquent property taxes included in the 2019 payable 2020 tax roll, on and after April 1, 2020;
  • Creating a fund through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Association to provide 6 months of support for prevention of single-family foreclosures and providing refinancing opportunities to current borrowers; and
  • Providing grant funding for small businesses and workers through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

The Governor’s first COVID-19-related legislation was introduced last week as LRB-5920 and is available here for review. A brief explanation of LRB-5920 is available here. A brief explanation of the governor’s second round of proposed legislation announced today is available online (link).

Governor Evers Announces Additional Shipment of Personal Protective Equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile

March 31, 2020

Governor Evers today announced that Wisconsin has received its second phase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and is in the process of distribution. The second phase of supplies from the SNS are being delivered to healthcare workers, emergency medical services, and medical facilities including hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and clinics across Wisconsin.

The State Emergency Operations Center and Department of Health Services continue working to supply medical facilities with supplies requested from the Strategic National Stockpile. The second phase includes approximately 51,880 N95 respirators, 130,840 face/surgical masks, 23,400 face shields, 20,226 surgical gowns, 96 coveralls, and 79,000 pairs of gloves. Today’s shipment comes as Governor Evers announced Wisconsin’s first delivery of SNS supplies which included approximately 52,800N95 respirators, 130,000 face/surgical masks, 24,768 face shields, 20,286 surgical gowns, 96 coveralls, and 61,750 pairs of gloves. In total Wisconsin has received approximately 104,680 N95 respirators, 260,840 face/surgical masks, 48,186 face shields, 40,512 surgical gowns, 192 coveralls, and 140,750 pairs of gloves from the SNS.

The SNS supply shipments do not include supplies the governor has requested from FEMA for non-medical personnel or supplies being aggressively pursued through procurement, donations, or the governor’s buyback program.

Governor Evers Asks for Presidential Disaster Declaration

March 31, 2020

Governor Evers today sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting that the president issue a major disaster declaration for the entire state of Wisconsin, as a result the COVID-19 pandemic. The request covers all 72 counties and the state’s federally recognized tribes.

Having determined that Wisconsin met all of the criteria required to receive a major disaster declaration, Gov. Evers in his letter requested that the federal government provide the following programs to support the state’s response: Public Assistance, Direct Assistance, Hazard Mitigation (statewide), and certain Individual Assistance programs; Crisis Counseling, Community Disaster Loans and the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program.

Gov. Evers declared a public health emergency on March 12 in response to the outbreak, which directed the Department of Health Services to take all necessary and appropriate actions to help combat the spread of the virus. On March 14, the governor directed Wisconsin Emergency Management to activate the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to provide additional coordination in support of the state’s response.

A copy of the governor’s letter (link) and the full press release are available online (link).

Governor Evers Sets Up State COVID-19 Voluntary Isolation Facilities

March 31, 2020

Governor Evers today announced the State of Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) is opening two state-run voluntary isolation facilities in Madison and Milwaukee and is providing guidance to local communities throughout Wisconsin. The two sites are set to open April 1, 2020 are at Lowell Center in Madison and a Super 8 hotel in Milwaukee.

These facilities are for symptomatic individuals suspected to be infected with COVID-19 or who have a confirmed case of COVID-19. Individuals will not be permitted to register at the facility unless referred by a medical provider or public health official. Individuals register and stay at the isolation facility on a voluntary basis. The expected length of stay will be about 14 days, or 72 hours after symptoms dissipate. At any time, either the individual or the facility may terminate the individual’s presence at the site. Those staying at the facility will have wellness checks by phone every four hours during the day and if needed at night.

Additionally, the SEOC also issued guidance for communities seeking to open their own voluntary self-isolation centers. This guidance will aid local communities with the following:

  • How do we select, set up, and staff an isolation site?
  • How does a person get referred to and checked into the isolation site?
  • What happens while occupants are at the isolation site? Including details about medical monitoring/wellness check calls and other on-site services.
  • When do occupants leave the site? Including details about discharge and involuntary check out from the isolation site.

The full press release is available online (link).

Wisconsin Partnership Program Releases RFP for $1.5 Million in COVID-19 Grant Funding

March 31, 2020

The Wisconsin Partnership Program ​released an RFP​ Tuesday for a new $1.5 million grant program to support projects that “aim to improve the health of the people of Wisconsin by lessening the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

About $750,000 will be available for programs led by Wisconsin-based nonprofits, tax exempt, 501(c)(3) organizations or tribal/government entities. Special emphasis will be given to projects that target vulnerable populations.

Grant applications are due April 15, 2020.

Governor Announces New Public-Private Partnership to Increase COVID-19 Laboratory Testing Capacity

March 31, 2020

Governor Evers announced a new public-private partnership among Wisconsin industry leaders to increase Wisconsin's laboratory testing capacity for COVID-19. Prior to today's announcement, the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab were leading the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network labs to bring additional COVID-19 testing online.

The new partnership now includes laboratory support from Exact Sciences, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Promega, and UW Health. These organizations, along with the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, will now share knowledge, resources, and technology to bolster Wisconsin’s testing capacity.

The Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network labs have been averaging completion of 1,500-2,000 COVID-19 tests per day. The expanded capacity from the state’s new public-private partnership is expected to double that capacity initially and continue to expand as additional platforms and supplies become available.

Residents who are seeking a COVID-19 test are still required to receive an order from a doctor. These labs are not testing sites.

The full press release is available online (link).

ForwardHealth Announces New Policies for Telehealth Reimbursement

March 30, 2020

ForwardHealth will allow telehealth services utilizing interactive synchronous (real-time) technology, including audio-only phone communication, for currently covered services that can be delivered with functional equivalency to the face-to-face service. This applies to all service areas and all enrolled professional and paraprofessional providers allowable within current ForwardHealth coverage policy.

Please refer to the Forward Health Update 2020-15 (link) for a comprehensive explanation of the update.

Governor Releases COVID-19 Legislation

March 28, 2020

Governor Evers released a 65-page draft piece of legislation and a draft joint resolution on Saturday night aimed at addressing COVID-19. The Governor also released a chart outlining the proposal.  The Legislative Fiscal Bureau also provided a Summary of provisions of Governor Evers’ proposed legislation and Joint Resolution indefinitely extending public health emergency to state legislators.

The bill includes several healthcare provisions, including language related to out-of-network bills that occur during the public health emergency. The language caps physician payment rates at 250% of the Medicare rate.

Insurance 

  • Prohibits health plans from charging patients more for out-of-network services related to the diagnosis and treatment of the condition for which a public health emergency has been declared than they do for in-network services (if an in-network physician is not available).
  • The bill requires the plan to reimburse the out-of-network provider at 250% of the Medicare rate. Providers and facilities are prohibited from charging patients more than what they are reimburse by the plan.
  • Creates a process for out-of-state physicians to have liability coverage in Wisconsin during a public health emergency. They would need to provide OCI with a certificate of insurance for a policy of health care liability insurance issued by an insurer that is authorized in a jurisdiction accredited by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
  • Requires health plans to cover without cost-sharing any testing, treatment or vaccines related to COVID-19.
  • Requires health plans to cover any services provided via telehealth if they cover that service when it is provided in-person.
  • Prohibits health plans from canceling policies due to non-payment during the COVID-19 emergency
  • Prohibits health plans and pharmacy benefit managers from requiring prior authorization for any early refills of prescriptions or restricting the period of time in which a drug may be refilled.
  • Creates a process for pharmacists to extend prescription orders by up to 30 days during public health emergencies.

Emergency Preparedness 

  • Provides $300 million to the Department of Military Affairs to respond to the public health emergency.
  • Provides $200 million to the Department of Administration to respond to the public health emergency.

Health 

  • Creates a public health emergency fund for the Department of Health Services.
  • Provides $100 million for a new health care provider grant program specific to planning, preparing for and responding to COVID-19.
  • Provides $17.4 million to local health departments.
  • Creates 64 positions within the Department of Health Services’ Division of Public Health.
  • Allows DHS to suspend any premium or cost-sharing requirements for childless adults on BadgerCare in order to qualify for enhanced federal Medicaid matching funds related to COVID-19.
  • Exempts the Department of Health Services, during a public health emergency, from the current law legislative review requirements for submitting waiver requests to the federal government, amending the state Medicaid plan or raising Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • Expands the definition of public health emergency to include toxins or other threats to health.

Health Care Workforce 

  • Allows former health care providers to receive a temporary license to provide services during a public health emergency. This would apply to physicians, nurses, PAs, dentists, pharmacists, phycologists, social workers and other health providers who have practiced within the last 5 years but do not currently have a license. The temporary license would be valid until 90 days following the conclusion of the health emergency.
  • Allows out-of-state health care providers to receive a temporary license to practice in Wisconsin. The temporary license would be valid until 90 days following the conclusion of the health emergency.
  • Allows the state to waive licensure fees for physicians, physician assistants, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, and certain behavioral health providers.
  • Exempts certain health care provider credentials issued by credentialing boards in DSPS from having to be renewed during the public health emergency.

Unemployment Insurance

  • Eliminates the one-week waiting period for Unemployment Insurance

Voting

The bill contains several provisions related to voting during public health emergencies. Specifically, for elections held during a declared public health emergency, it would:

  • Require elections held during public health emergencies to be held by mail.
  • Waive the state’s Photo ID requirement.
  • Waive the requirement that mail-in absentee ballots need a witness signature.
  • Allow mail-in ballots to be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
  • Allow voters to register electronically until 5 days before the election.

Governor Issues Order to Expedite Expansion, Enhance Efficiency of Healthcare Workforce   

March 28, 2020

Governor Evers and Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm today exercised their authority under Article V, Section 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution and Sections 323.12(4) and 252.02(6) of the Wisconsin Statutes to simplify healthcare license renewals during the COVID-19 public health emergency and to encourage recently retired professionals with expired licenses to re-enter practice. This full order is available online (link).

The order includes the following policy changes:

  • Interstate Reciprocity: allows any out-of-state health can provider licensed and in good standing to practice in Wisconsin without a Wisconsin credential. The order requires the out-of-state physician to apply for a temporary or permanent Wisconsin license within 10 days of first working at a Wisconsin health care facility; and the health care facility must notify DSPS within 5 days. The order temporarily suspends the visiting physician practice limitations in Med 3.04.
  • Temporary License: Any temporary licensed to an out-of-state provider during the emergency will be valid until 30 days after the conclusion of the emergency.
  • Telemedicine: Allows physicians licensed and in good standing in Wisconsin, another U.S. state or Canada to provide telemedicine services to Wisconsin residents.
  • Physician Assistants: Suspends several current rules regulating the practice of PAs in Wisconsin. This includes: the requirement of PAs to notify the MEB of changes to their supervising physician within 20 days (order changes it to 40 days); the requirement that PAs limit their scope of practice to that of their supervising physician (the order allows them to practice to the extent of their experience, education, training and abilities. It also allows them to delegate tasks to another health provider); the physician to PA ratio of 4:1 (the order allows a physician to oversee up to 8 on-duty PAs at a time, but there is no limit on how many PAs a physician may provide supervision to over time. It also allows a PA to be supervised by multiple physicians while on duty).
  • Nurse Training and Practice:The order suspends many rules related to nursing. This includes suspending a rule that prohibits simulations from being utilized for more than 50% of the time designated for meeting clinical learning requirements. It also suspends the requirement for nurses to submit an official transcript in order to get a temporary license and allows a temporary license to remain valid for up to 6 months. In addition, it suspends the rule requiring license renewal within 5 years.
  • Advanced Practice Nurse Prescribers: Temporarily suspends the requirement that Nurse Prescribers must facilitate collaboration with other health care professionals, at least 1 of whom shall be a physician or dentist.
  • Recently Expired Credentials: Requiresthe state to reach out to individuals with recently lapsed credentials about renewal options. The order also suspends many of the late renewal fees and continuing education requirements for most health professions. The order temporarily suspends MED 14.06(2)(a) to allow a physician whose license lapsed less than 5 years ago to renew without fulfilling the continuing education requirements. It also suspends RAD 5.01 (1) and (2) to allow radiographers or LXMO permit holders who have let their license lapse renew without completing continuing education.
  • Fees: The order also gives DHS the ability to suspend fees or assessments related to health care provider credentialing.

The order is effective immediately and will remain in effect through the duration of the public health emergency.

The full version of the Governor’s press release is available online (link).

New Marquette Law School Poll Finds Strong Support for Coronavirus Closings

April 1, 2020

A new Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin registered voters finds strong support for government actions to control the coronavirus pandemic, even as the poll also shows these actions to be having a substantial financial impact on voters.

The survey found:

  • Eighty-six percent say that it was appropriate to close schools and businesses, and restrict public gatherings, while 10 percent say that this was an overreaction to the pandemic;
  • A large majority of voters approve of Gov. Tony Evers’ handling of the coronavirus issue, with 76 percent saying they approve and 17 percent saying they disapprove;
  • A majority, 51 percent, approve of President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, while 46 percent disapprove;
  • Opinion is divided on holding the April 7 spring election as scheduled, with 51 percent saying the date should be moved and 44 percent saying it should be held as scheduled.

A full copy of the survey is available online (link)

Wisconsin LFB Published Report on State Funding in CARES Act

April 1, 2020

Wisconsin nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) published an analysis of the approximately $2.2 billion Wisconsin is expected to receive from the from the Coronavirus Relief Fund created by the CARES Act. About $1.8 billion would go to the state government while the remaining funds would go to the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and Dane County. The LFB has also provided Wisconsin-specific estimates for some of the programmatic increases provided by the stimulus package.  That report is available online (link).

The report includes a summary on all programs funded in the Act, including:

  • Public Health Emergency Preparedness funding from CDC;
  • Administration for Community Living
  • Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund
  • Direct Payments to State and Local Governments
  • Transportation, Housing and Unemployment Programs

Details on the full $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package are also available in the full bill available online (link).  The following is a summary of some of the healthcare related provisions in the bill.

Health and Long-term Care

Grants to Hospitals and Health Care Providers: Provides $100 billion to reimburse, through grants or other mechanisms, eligible health care providers for health care related expenses or lost revenues that are attributable to coronavirus. Medicaid and Medicare providers are included in the definition of health care provider. To apply, providers must submit an application to the Secretary of Health and Human Services that includes a statement justifying their need.

Delay of Disproportionate Share Hospital Reductions. Delays scheduled reductions in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments through November 30, 2020.

Increasing Provider Funding through Immediate Medicare Sequester Relief. Temporarily lifts the Medicare sequester from May 1 through December 31, 2020, boosting payments for hospital, physician, nursing home, home health, and other care by 2%. The Medicare sequester would be extended by one-year beyond current law to provide immediate relief without worsening Medicare’s long-term financial outlook.

Medicare Add-on for Inpatient Hospital COVID-19 Patients. Increases the payment that would otherwise be made to a hospital for treating a patient admitted with COVID-19 by 20%. It would build on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decision to expedite use of a COVID-19 diagnosis to enable better surveillance as well as trigger appropriate payment for these complex patients. This add-on payment would be available through the duration of the COVID-19 emergency period.

Grants to the V.A.: Provides $14.4 billion to the Veteran’s Administration for medical services.

CDC: Provides $4.3 billion to the CDC. Of these funds, $1.5 billion is set aside for grants to states, territories and tribes to help carry out surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory capacity, infection control, mitigation, communications, and other preparedness and response activities.

Strategic National Stockpile: Provides $16 billion in funding for the Strategic National Stockpile to procure personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies.

Hospital Preparedness: Provides $250 million for grants to improve the capacity of healthcare facilities to respond to medical events.

Rural Health: Provides $180 million to expand services and capacity for rural hospitals, telehealth, poison control centers.

Health Savings Accounts for Telehealth Services. Allows a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA) to cover telehealth services prior to a patient reaching the deductible.

Providing Hospitals Medicare Advance Payments. Expands, for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency period, an existing Medicare accelerated payment program. Specifically, qualified facilities would be able to request up to a six month advanced lump sum or periodic payment. This advanced payment would be based on net reimbursement represented by unbilled discharges or unpaid bills. Most hospital types could elect to receive up to 100% of the prior period payments, with Critical Access Hospitals able to receive up to 125%. Finally, a qualifying hospital would not be required to start paying down the loan for four months, and would also have at least 12 months to complete repayment without a requirement to pay interest.

Extension of Physician Work Geographic Index Floor. Extends payments for the work component of physician fees in areas where labor cost is determined to be lower than the national average through December 1, 2020.

National Academies Report on America’s Medical Product Supply Chain Security: Requires the Department of Health and Human Services to enter into an agreement with the National Academies to examine and report on the security of the United States medical product supply chain. Part of the report requires the examination of the United States’ dependence on critical drugs and devices that are sourced or manufactured outside of the U.S.

Requiring the Strategic National Stockpile to Include Certain Supplies: Requires the strategic national stockpile to include personal protective equipment, ancillary medical supplies, and other applicable supplies required for the administration of drugs, vaccines and other biological products, medical devices, and diagnostic tests.

Preventing Medical Device Shortages: Requires manufacturers of medical devices that are critical during public health emergencies to notify the federal government of any discontinuance or interruption to manufacturing of the device that could disrupt the supply of the device in the U.S. The information will be used to compile a list of devices that are determined to be in short supply.

Rapid Coverage of Preventive Services and Vaccines for Coronavirus: Requires insurers to cover without cost-sharing any qualifying coronavirus preventive service. Qualifying preventive services include any evidence-based item, service, or immunization that is intended to prevent or mitigate coronavirus disease.

Increased Funding for Health Centers: Provides $1.3 billion in additional funding to community health centers in fiscal year 2020.

Telehealth Network and Resource Center Grants: Provides $29 million per year through 2025 and reauthorizes Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant programs that promote the use of telehealth technologies for health care delivery, education, and health information services.

Rural health care services outreach, rural health network development, and small health care provider quality improvement grant programs. Provides $79.5 million per year through 2025 and reauthorizes HRSA grant programs to strengthen rural community health by focusing on quality improvement, increasing health care access, coordination of care, and integration of services.

Limitation on liability for volunteer health care professionals during COVID-19 emergency response. Makes clear that doctors who provide volunteer medical services during the public health emergency related to COVID-19 have liability protections. In order to have the liability protections provided by the bill, a volunteer provider must be acting within the scope of their license, registration or certification as defined by the state.

Health Care Workforce

Reauthorization of health professions workforce programs.

Provides $51.4 million per year between 2021 and 2025 for scholarships to health care students. The funding is given to eligible entities, which includes schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, optometry, public health, etc.

Provides $48.9 million per year for the primary care training and enhancement program. Adds language prioritizing grant awards to programs that train physicians in rural areas.

Provides $41.2 million for eligible entities to establish health care workforce educational programs.

Provides $1.1 million per year for a loan repayment program for medical, dental and nursing students who agree to serve as faculty following graduation.

Provides $15 million per year to provide educational assistance to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue health care education.

Extension of Demonstration Projects to Address Health Professions Workforce Needs: Extends the Health Professions Opportunity Grants (HPOG) program through November 30, 2020 at current funding levels. This program provides funding to help low-income individuals obtain education and training in high-demand, well-paid, health care jobs.

Education and training relating to geriatrics. Provides $40.7 million per year and reauthorizes and updates Title VII of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA), which pertains to programs to support clinician training and faculty development, including the training of practitioners in family medicine, general internal medicine, geriatrics, pediatrics, and other medical specialties. It emphasizes integration of geriatric care into existing service delivery locations and care across settings, including home- and community-based services. The Secretary may provide  awardees with additional support for activities in areas of demonstrated need, which may include education and training for home health workers, family caregivers, and direct care workers on care for older adults. Eligible entities could receive awards of at least $75,000.

Economic Relief

 Recovery Rebates for Americans: Provides a one-time payment of $1,200 to individuals with incomes below $75,000 or a one-time payment of  $2,400 for joint filers with incomes below $150,000. Payments are increased by $500 per child. The bill requires the one-time payments to be made as soon as possible.

Relief Payments to States, Tribal Governments and Local Units of Government: Provides $150 billion in direct payments to states, tribal governments and local units of government with. To qualify, local governments must have populations of more than 500,000 people. Payments are required to be used to cover expenditures related to COVID-19 that occur between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020. Expenditures must not have been accounted for in the state or local government’s most recent budget. The bill requires the Treasury Secretary  to make these payments within 30 days of enactment.

 Loans for Small Businesses, Non-profits, Contractors and Self-Employed Individuals. Allows nonprofits and other businesses with less than 500 employees to get loans from the Small Business Administration if they were adversely impacted by COVID-19. Loans can be used to cover payroll costs, health care benefits, mortgage or rent payments, utilities or interest on debt. Borrowers will be eligible for loan forgiveness if they maintain employees and their salaries. The eligibility period runs from February 15, 2020 to June 30, 2020. Maximum loan amounts will be determined using the organization's average monthly payroll amounts over a one year period. The bill appropriates $349 billion for this loan program.

Employee retention credit for employers subject to closure due to COVID-19. Provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by employers to employees during the COVID-19 crisis. The credit is available to employers whose (1) operations were fully or partially suspended, due to a COVID-19-related shutdown order, or (2) gross receipts declined by more than 50 percent when compared to the same quarter in the prior year.

Small Business Administration Disaster Loans: Provides $562 million to the Disaster Loan Program.

Broadband and Telehealth

Rural Utilities Service--Distance Learning, Telemedicine and Broadband Program: Provides $25 million for telemedicine and distance learning services in rural areas.

Reconnect Pilot: Provides $100 million for grants for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.

Federal Communications Commission Telehealth: Provides $200 million to the FCC to respond to COVID-19. This includes supporting health care providers by providing telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services.

Higher Education and Student Loans

Temporary Relief for Federal Student Loan Borrowers: Requires the Secretary to defer student loan payments, principal, and interest for 6 months, through September 30, 2020, without penalty to the borrower for all federally owned loans.

Adjustments of Subsidized Loan Limits. For students who dropped out of school as a result of COVID -19 excludes the term from counting toward lifetime subsidized loan eligibility.

Exclusion from Federal Pell Grant Duration Limit. For students who dropped out of school as a result of COVID -19 excludes the term from counting toward lifetime Pell eligibility.

Institutional Refund and Federal Student Loan Flexibility. For students who dropped out of school as a result of COVID -19, the student is not required to return Pell grants or federal student loans to the Secretary. Waives the requirement that institutions calculate the amount of grant or loan assistance that the institution must return to the Secretary in the case of students who dropped out of school as a result of COVID-19

Exclusion for certain employer payments of student loans: Allows employers to provide a student loan repayment benefit to employees on a tax-free basis. Under the provision, an employer may contribute up to $5,250 annually toward an employee’s student loans, and such payment would be excluded from the employee’s income. The $5,250 cap applies to both the new student loan repayment benefit as well as other educational assistance (e.g., tuition, fees, books) provided by the employer under current law. The provision applies to any student loan payments made by an employer on behalf of an employee after date of enactment and before January 1, 2021.

 

Governor Evers Announces Second Package of Comprehensive Legislative Proposals Providing COVID-19 Relief and Support

April 1, 2020

Governor Evers today announced a second package of comprehensive legislative proposals that would provide critical investments in health services, support for essential workers, and assistance for Wisconsin families and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s announcement today comes just days after Gov. Evers announced a first piece of legislation, which included additional funding and flexibility for public health professionals and healthcare professionals, a repeal of the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance, expanding and improving access to telehealth services, among many other proposals.

As additional needs and issues arise from agencies and stakeholders, the governor is committed to working with legislators to find bipartisan solutions. The governor’s office welcomes the opportunity to hear and consider any proposals that legislators have to address the impacts of COVID-19 on the health and well-being of Wisconsin residents, businesses and communities.

This package, among many other proposals, includes:

  • Increasing funding for Medicaid providers via supplemental payments and rate increases to support the healthcare system’s response to the public health emergency;
  • Establishing a fund to reduce providers’ uncompensated care costs targeting reimbursement for treatment-related costs for uninsured individuals;
  • Establishing a COVID-19 reinsurance program to reduce health insurance premiums;
  • Providing grant funding to provide food assistance and meal delivery;
  • Prohibiting utility cooperatives from disconnecting customers and prohibiting land-lord directed disconnections from rental units during a public health emergency;
  • Ensuring workers receive back payment for any lost unemployment insurance benefits as a result of the delay in suspending the one-week waiting period;
  • Providing supplemental payments to child care providers, if that provider needed to shut down during the public health emergency;
  • Allowing households to apply for heating assistance under the low-income energy assistance program anytime during the 2020 calendar year;
  • Increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families;
  • Providing municipalities the flexibility to implement multiple installments of three or more payments for 2020 property taxes;
  • Waiving interest and penalties on delinquent property taxes included in the 2019 payable 2020 tax roll, on and after April 1, 2020;
  • Creating a fund through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Association to provide 6 months of support for prevention of single-family foreclosures and providing refinancing opportunities to current borrowers; and
  • Providing grant funding for small businesses and workers through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

The Governor’s first COVID-19-related legislation was introduced last week as LRB-5920 and is available here for review. A brief explanation of LRB-5920 is available here. A brief explanation of the governor’s second round of proposed legislation announced today is available online (link).

Governor Evers Announces Additional Shipment of Personal Protective Equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile

March 31, 2020

Governor Evers today announced that Wisconsin has received its second phase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and is in the process of distribution. The second phase of supplies from the SNS are being delivered to healthcare workers, emergency medical services, and medical facilities including hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and clinics across Wisconsin.

The State Emergency Operations Center and Department of Health Services continue working to supply medical facilities with supplies requested from the Strategic National Stockpile. The second phase includes approximately 51,880 N95 respirators, 130,840 face/surgical masks, 23,400 face shields, 20,226 surgical gowns, 96 coveralls, and 79,000 pairs of gloves. Today’s shipment comes as Governor Evers announced Wisconsin’s first delivery of SNS supplies which included approximately 52,800N95 respirators, 130,000 face/surgical masks, 24,768 face shields, 20,286 surgical gowns, 96 coveralls, and 61,750 pairs of gloves. In total Wisconsin has received approximately 104,680 N95 respirators, 260,840 face/surgical masks, 48,186 face shields, 40,512 surgical gowns, 192 coveralls, and 140,750 pairs of gloves from the SNS.

The SNS supply shipments do not include supplies the governor has requested from FEMA for non-medical personnel or supplies being aggressively pursued through procurement, donations, or the governor’s buyback program.

Governor Evers Asks for Presidential Disaster Declaration

March 31, 2020

Governor Evers today sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting that the president issue a major disaster declaration for the entire state of Wisconsin, as a result the COVID-19 pandemic. The request covers all 72 counties and the state’s federally recognized tribes.

Having determined that Wisconsin met all of the criteria required to receive a major disaster declaration, Gov. Evers in his letter requested that the federal government provide the following programs to support the state’s response: Public Assistance, Direct Assistance, Hazard Mitigation (statewide), and certain Individual Assistance programs; Crisis Counseling, Community Disaster Loans and the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program.

Gov. Evers declared a public health emergency on March 12 in response to the outbreak, which directed the Department of Health Services to take all necessary and appropriate actions to help combat the spread of the virus. On March 14, the governor directed Wisconsin Emergency Management to activate the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to provide additional coordination in support of the state’s response.

A copy of the governor’s letter (link) and the full press release are available online (link).

Governor Evers Sets Up State COVID-19 Voluntary Isolation Facilities

March 31, 2020

Governor Evers today announced the State of Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) is opening two state-run voluntary isolation facilities in Madison and Milwaukee and is providing guidance to local communities throughout Wisconsin. The two sites are set to open April 1, 2020 are at Lowell Center in Madison and a Super 8 hotel in Milwaukee.

These facilities are for symptomatic individuals suspected to be infected with COVID-19 or who have a confirmed case of COVID-19. Individuals will not be permitted to register at the facility unless referred by a medical provider or public health official. Individuals register and stay at the isolation facility on a voluntary basis. The expected length of stay will be about 14 days, or 72 hours after symptoms dissipate. At any time, either the individual or the facility may terminate the individual’s presence at the site. Those staying at the facility will have wellness checks by phone every four hours during the day and if needed at night.

Additionally, the SEOC also issued guidance for communities seeking to open their own voluntary self-isolation centers. This guidance will aid local communities with the following:

  • How do we select, set up, and staff an isolation site?
  • How does a person get referred to and checked into the isolation site?
  • What happens while occupants are at the isolation site? Including details about medical monitoring/wellness check calls and other on-site services.
  • When do occupants leave the site? Including details about discharge and involuntary check out from the isolation site.

The full press release is available online (link).

Wisconsin Partnership Program Releases RFP for $1.5 Million in COVID-19 Grant Funding

March 31, 2020

The Wisconsin Partnership Program ​released an RFP​ Tuesday for a new $1.5 million grant program to support projects that “aim to improve the health of the people of Wisconsin by lessening the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

About $750,000 will be available for programs led by Wisconsin-based nonprofits, tax exempt, 501(c)(3) organizations or tribal/government entities. Special emphasis will be given to projects that target vulnerable populations.

Grant applications are due April 15, 2020.

Governor Announces New Public-Private Partnership to Increase COVID-19 Laboratory Testing Capacity

March 31, 2020

Governor Evers announced a new public-private partnership among Wisconsin industry leaders to increase Wisconsin's laboratory testing capacity for COVID-19. Prior to today's announcement, the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab were leading the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network labs to bring additional COVID-19 testing online.

The new partnership now includes laboratory support from Exact Sciences, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Promega, and UW Health. These organizations, along with the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network, will now share knowledge, resources, and technology to bolster Wisconsin’s testing capacity.

The Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network labs have been averaging completion of 1,500-2,000 COVID-19 tests per day. The expanded capacity from the state’s new public-private partnership is expected to double that capacity initially and continue to expand as additional platforms and supplies become available.

Residents who are seeking a COVID-19 test are still required to receive an order from a doctor. These labs are not testing sites.

The full press release is available online (link).

ForwardHealth Announces New Policies for Telehealth Reimbursement

March 30, 2020

ForwardHealth will allow telehealth services utilizing interactive synchronous (real-time) technology, including audio-only phone communication, for currently covered services that can be delivered with functional equivalency to the face-to-face service. This applies to all service areas and all enrolled professional and paraprofessional providers allowable within current ForwardHealth coverage policy.

Please refer to the Forward Health Update 2020-15 (link) for a comprehensive explanation of the update.

Governor Releases COVID-19 Legislation

March 28, 2020

Governor Evers released a 65-page draft piece of legislation and a draft joint resolution on Saturday night aimed at addressing COVID-19. The Governor also released a chart outlining the proposal.  The Legislative Fiscal Bureau also provided a Summary of provisions of Governor Evers’ proposed legislation and Joint Resolution indefinitely extending public health emergency to state legislators.

The bill includes several healthcare provisions, including language related to out-of-network bills that occur during the public health emergency. The language caps physician payment rates at 250% of the Medicare rate.

Insurance 

  • Prohibits health plans from charging patients more for out-of-network services related to the diagnosis and treatment of the condition for which a public health emergency has been declared than they do for in-network services (if an in-network physician is not available).
  • The bill requires the plan to reimburse the out-of-network provider at 250% of the Medicare rate. Providers and facilities are prohibited from charging patients more than what they are reimburse by the plan.
  • Creates a process for out-of-state physicians to have liability coverage in Wisconsin during a public health emergency. They would need to provide OCI with a certificate of insurance for a policy of health care liability insurance issued by an insurer that is authorized in a jurisdiction accredited by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
  • Requires health plans to cover without cost-sharing any testing, treatment or vaccines related to COVID-19.
  • Requires health plans to cover any services provided via telehealth if they cover that service when it is provided in-person.
  • Prohibits health plans from canceling policies due to non-payment during the COVID-19 emergency
  • Prohibits health plans and pharmacy benefit managers from requiring prior authorization for any early refills of prescriptions or restricting the period of time in which a drug may be refilled.
  • Creates a process for pharmacists to extend prescription orders by up to 30 days during public health emergencies.

Emergency Preparedness 

  • Provides $300 million to the Department of Military Affairs to respond to the public health emergency.
  • Provides $200 million to the Department of Administration to respond to the public health emergency.

Health 

  • Creates a public health emergency fund for the Department of Health Services.
  • Provides $100 million for a new health care provider grant program specific to planning, preparing for and responding to COVID-19.
  • Provides $17.4 million to local health departments.
  • Creates 64 positions within the Department of Health Services’ Division of Public Health.
  • Allows DHS to suspend any premium or cost-sharing requirements for childless adults on BadgerCare in order to qualify for enhanced federal Medicaid matching funds related to COVID-19.
  • Exempts the Department of Health Services, during a public health emergency, from the current law legislative review requirements for submitting waiver requests to the federal government, amending the state Medicaid plan or raising Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • Expands the definition of public health emergency to include toxins or other threats to health.

Health Care Workforce 

  • Allows former health care providers to receive a temporary license to provide services during a public health emergency. This would apply to physicians, nurses, PAs, dentists, pharmacists, phycologists, social workers and other health providers who have practiced within the last 5 years but do not currently have a license. The temporary license would be valid until 90 days following the conclusion of the health emergency.
  • Allows out-of-state health care providers to receive a temporary license to practice in Wisconsin. The temporary license would be valid until 90 days following the conclusion of the health emergency.
  • Allows the state to waive licensure fees for physicians, physician assistants, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, and certain behavioral health providers.
  • Exempts certain health care provider credentials issued by credentialing boards in DSPS from having to be renewed during the public health emergency.

Unemployment Insurance

  • Eliminates the one-week waiting period for Unemployment Insurance

Voting

The bill contains several provisions related to voting during public health emergencies. Specifically, for elections held during a declared public health emergency, it would:

  • Require elections held during public health emergencies to be held by mail.
  • Waive the state’s Photo ID requirement.
  • Waive the requirement that mail-in absentee ballots need a witness signature.
  • Allow mail-in ballots to be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
  • Allow voters to register electronically until 5 days before the election.

Governor Issues Order to Expedite Expansion, Enhance Efficiency of Healthcare Workforce   

March 28, 2020

Governor Evers and Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm today exercised their authority under Article V, Section 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution and Sections 323.12(4) and 252.02(6) of the Wisconsin Statutes to simplify healthcare license renewals during the COVID-19 public health emergency and to encourage recently retired professionals with expired licenses to re-enter practice. This full order is available online (link).

The order includes the following policy changes:

  • Interstate Reciprocity: allows any out-of-state health can provider licensed and in good standing to practice in Wisconsin without a Wisconsin credential. The order requires the out-of-state physician to apply for a temporary or permanent Wisconsin license within 10 days of first working at a Wisconsin health care facility; and the health care facility must notify DSPS within 5 days. The order temporarily suspends the visiting physician practice limitations in Med 3.04.
  • Temporary License: Any temporary licensed to an out-of-state provider during the emergency will be valid until 30 days after the conclusion of the emergency.
  • Telemedicine: Allows physicians licensed and in good standing in Wisconsin, another U.S. state or Canada to provide telemedicine services to Wisconsin residents.
  • Physician Assistants: Suspends several current rules regulating the practice of PAs in Wisconsin. This includes: the requirement of PAs to notify the MEB of changes to their supervising physician within 20 days (order changes it to 40 days); the requirement that PAs limit their scope of practice to that of their supervising physician (the order allows them to practice to the extent of their experience, education, training and abilities. It also allows them to delegate tasks to another health provider); the physician to PA ratio of 4:1 (the order allows a physician to oversee up to 8 on-duty PAs at a time, but there is no limit on how many PAs a physician may provide supervision to over time. It also allows a PA to be supervised by multiple physicians while on duty).
  • Nurse Training and Practice:The order suspends many rules related to nursing. This includes suspending a rule that prohibits simulations from being utilized for more than 50% of the time designated for meeting clinical learning requirements. It also suspends the requirement for nurses to submit an official transcript in order to get a temporary license and allows a temporary license to remain valid for up to 6 months. In addition, it suspends the rule requiring license renewal within 5 years.
  • Advanced Practice Nurse Prescribers: Temporarily suspends the requirement that Nurse Prescribers must facilitate collaboration with other health care professionals, at least 1 of whom shall be a physician or dentist.
  • Recently Expired Credentials: Requiresthe state to reach out to individuals with recently lapsed credentials about renewal options. The order also suspends many of the late renewal fees and continuing education requirements for most health professions. The order temporarily suspends MED 14.06(2)(a) to allow a physician whose license lapsed less than 5 years ago to renew without fulfilling the continuing education requirements. It also suspends RAD 5.01 (1) and (2) to allow radiographers or LXMO permit holders who have let their license lapse renew without completing continuing education.
  • Fees: The order also gives DHS the ability to suspend fees or assessments related to health care provider credentialing.

The order is effective immediately and will remain in effect through the duration of the public health emergency.

The full version of the Governor’s press release is available online (link).

Governor Suspends Evictions and Foreclosures During Public Health Emergency

March 27, 2020

Governor Evers directed the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm to temporarily order the suspension of evictions and foreclosures amid the COVID-19 public health emergency. The full order is available online (link).

The order prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for any reason unless failure to proceed with the eviction will result in an imminent threat of serious physical harm to another person and mortgagees from commencing civil action to foreclose on real estate for 60 days. Wisconsinites who are able to continue to meet their financial obligations are urged to do so. This order does not in any way relieve a person's obligation to pay their rent or mortgages.

The full press release is available on the Governor’s website (link).

Wisconsin Safer at Home Order

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Governor Evers has issued Emergency Order #12 to institute a Safer At Home policy. The order is effective at 8:00 am on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 and remain in effect until 8:00 am Friday, April 24, 2020, or until a superseding order is issued.

Wisconsin residents must comply with this order. As outlined in the order, individuals can leave their home to perform tasks essential to maintain health and safety, get services and supplies necessary for staying home, and care for others.

After reviewing the order, if a business believes their business is doing essential work and they are not exempted in this order please go to this link https://wedc.org/essentialbusiness/.

These are important steps to ensure we working to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Essential services, such as healthcare and public health operations, will continue to be provided to the communities across Wisconsin, including the work done by mental health and substance abuse providers.

October 2019 Update for OMS Societies

Registration is now open for AAOMS Day on the Hill. Click here to register.