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AB 210 and the Substitute Amendment that Fooled [Almost] Everyone
Written by Kirsten   
Thursday, 10 November 2011 14:46

Most Wisconsinites have never heard of AB 210. Yet it's one of the most dangerous pieces of proposed legislation to fast-track its way through the halls of Wisconsin's State Capitol Building in quite some time.

What was it meant to do?  

A look at the opening lines of the original bill's summary sums the primary purpose up neatly: "This bill incorporates the health insurance coverage requirements of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) into the Wisconsin statutes."

What's wrong with embedding a few little federal regulations into Wisconsin State Statutes...?

Plenty.

Introduced in July 29, and the subject of a public hearing in the Assembly Committee on Insurance on September 15, AB 210 set off alarm bells for two Republican legislators on that committee. Reps. Tyler August (R - Lake Geneva) and David Craig (R - Big Bend), who both recognized that AB 210 opened the door to a state healthcare exchange, mounted a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to kill the bill in committee. 

If you read the previous installment of this series, you already know there is no such thing as a state healthcare exchange. But even if the state could miraculously implement an exchange that avoided federal control, the bill represented stunningly bad public policy. Whether it's the state or the federal government running it, an exchange would ultimately prove devastating to Wisconsin's healthcare consumers, taxpayers, and insurance industry.

Why?

Because, as wise free marketers will tell you, when government partners with big business, there is no free market. Rather, the result is cartels, price fixing, and a host of other ills that result in loss of competition, reduced choice, and higher costs for everyone.

In fact, large insurance companies with substantial financial resources are the only ones that have a prayer of surviving the implementation of a compliant state healthcare exchange. The increasing mandates the federal law will unleash will ultimately crush smaller and specialized insurance providers. Even some of the big boys are likely to fold under a government-run exchange because, once government chooses its preferred insurance partners others will be choked out. That is how partnership between government and big business works.

 

To be clear, AB 210's language did not work to establish an exchange per se. Rather, writing PPACA rules and regulations into state law was a first and crucial step in weakening the state's ability to resist federal authority in relationship to future implementation of ObamaCare, almost certainly through a compliant state healthcare exchange. (Again, see the previous article in this series.)

AB 210 held additional dangers. It gave the State Commissioner of Insurance expansive rule-making authority.

That spectre, it would seem, did actually make Republican legislators nervous enough to prompt a substitute amendment, adopted in committee on October 11. The substitute amendment didn't get rid of the rule-making authority. Rather, it implemented a mere speed bump by stipulating that the Insurance Commissioner would have to declare and explain an emergency in order to implement rules.

Disturbingly, the substitute amendment did absolutely nothing to alter AB 210's fundamental purpose: to write federal PPACA language into Wisconsin's state statutes. In fact, no amendment could have fixed this problem.

Experts, such as Twila Brase of the Citizens' Council for Health Freedom and Diane Cohen of the Goldwater Institute, have both made clear that the states' best means of protecting against ObamaCare is to refuse any compliance with it whatsover.

Yet, one of the chief tactics used by those working to advance AB 210--including the State Office of the Commissioner of Insurance--was to tell legislators that without quick compliance with federal law on the issues covered by the bill, Wisconsin would lose it's right to have independent insurance reviews performed instate. Instead, it was asserted, a federal office in Chicago would assume all such independent reviews. 

Let's think about that argument for just a moment: Wisconsin must comply with federal healthcare law in order to protect state prerogatives and individual rights.

Come into my parlor..." said the federal spider to the state fly.

In reality, due to increasing financial and operational difficulties in implementing the law, the Federal Government actually needs state assistance in order to move ObamaCare forward. Getting Wisconsin to pass AB 210, and thereby entrenching the federal law in the state, would have provided just the sort of foothold the Feds required.

Not surprisingly, no provision anywhere in PPACA guarantees Wisconsin or any other state special deals in exchange for compliance. Moreover, PPACA is written to give the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) broad powers to change rules and regulations on a whim.

The idea that anyone in Wisconsin would attempt to offer its compliance on PPACA rules and regulations in exchange for special favors from--or side deals with--the Feds is akin to hoping that piranha won't swarm upon detecting blood in the water.

Yet, sadly, most of Wisconsin's Republican Assemblymen fell for the ruse. They chose to believe the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OCI) and others, who assured them that: a) all problems with AB 210 were now fixed; b) the bill was completely safe; and c) passing it quickly simply preserved the right of Wisconsinites to an instate independent insurance review.

On October 18th, AB 210 passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly, with only five Republican legislators courageously breaking ranks to vote no. Among them were Reps. August and Craig who had already sounded the alarm about the bill. Joining them were Reps. Dean Knudson (Hudson), Steve Nass (Whitewater), and Evan Wynn (Whitewater).

The bill was subsequently and immediately assigned to the Senate Committee on Insurance and Housing, where it was scheduled for a public hearing the following week, with an executive session in committee scheduled the day following. A floor vote in the Senate was fully expected immediately thereafter. Sources at the Capitol were calling AB 210 a done deal. A done deal for Big Insurance. A done deal for the Feds. Just done for small insurers, Wisconsin healthcare consumers, and taxpayers.

Enter Senator Frank Lasee, who, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Insurance, looked closely at AB 210, consulted further with national experts, and ultimately decided to kill the bill in committee.

What connection exists between the tremendous push to pass AB 210 and the $49 million in federal Early Innovator Grant funds remains unclear for now. But it seems more than coincidence that those moneys, accepted by Governor Walker's administration in February, were provided specifically for the purpose of establishing a state healthcare exchange.

Again, if you haven't contacted Governor Walker's office to insist on the return of that $49 million, it's imperative that you do. Federal moneys never come without strings. As long as Wisconsin holds those federal funds, you and I remain unnecessarily vulnerable to the advancement of ObamaCare in this state. 

Next installment: AB 210 and the Emergency Rule: It's not Just Your Legislators You Need to Watch

Note, November 18th, 2011: After this article was written, the situation changed dramatically. An emergency rule was signed by Governor walker on November 3rd, though the public did not learn about his signature on the rule until more than 10 days later. The next article in the series therefore changed its title somewhat to: 

Help Governor Walker Understand the Truth: Keep up Calls and Emails on the Emergency Rule

 

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