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Wisconsin Spotlight | May 6, 2020

MADISON — While the Wisconsin Department of Health Services is leading the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Evers administration is using many of the preparedness measures put in place by its predecessors, particularly the Walker administration. 

A new report from the Institute for Reforming Government (IRG) details the policies implemented over the years to help fight the pandemic. 

“Legislation that cut bureaucratic red tape prior to the pandemic is clearly paying off,” said IRG’s Rob McDonald, chairman of the board.

The report notes a bill signed by then-Gov. Walker in 2015 that increased access to licensed health care workers from other states to practice in Wisconsin, part of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. It was a critical move that ultimately helped bring more frontline health workers to the COVID-19 fight. Bills introduced in recent weeks, including a bill from Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) that would expand the scope of practice of health care providers, also are aimed at removing regulatory hurdles to quickly respond to the virus. 

In 2014, the Walker administration created the Healthcare Emergency Readiness Coalition (HERC). Today, there are seven regional coalitions that cover the state. Under the coalition, private health care, public safety and public health partners “support communities, before, during, and after disasters and other health-related crises,” according to the Department of Health Services. 

In December 2015, Walker signed a bill that officially entered Wisconsin into the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, a multi-state agreement that created a “streamlined process for physicians to become licensed in multiple states.” 

Wisconsin Emergency Management officials in 2017 revised the Wisconsin Emergency Response Plan. The 948-page document notes:

“As a home rule state, Wisconsin recognizes that the safety and well-being of every resident of every jurisdiction in the state are the responsibility of the senior elected officials at the lowest level of government affected by an emergency. It is the premise of this plan that all levels of government share the responsibility for working together in preventing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the effects of an emergency or disaster incident.”

One of the key criticisms of the Evers administration during the pandemic has been its top-down approach, with considerable power vested in the Department of Health Services. Local government leaders, too, have deferred to their health departments, even as their orders have raised constitutional questions. 

DHS in recent weeks has found that cutting red tape is critical to combatting COVID-19. In late March, Evers and DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm signed Order #16, which “removed barriers from health care providers from other states.”

The IRG report asserts it is critical to continue to pursue “innovative legislative solutions that eliminate unnecessary red tape and improve access to health care.”

“Improving the ability for health care workers to work across state lines through the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact is a no-brainer, and there’s no time like the present to make us all aware that technology really is the future,” IRG’s McDonald said. “Our leaders who put together bipartisan legislation to improve telehealth should be applauded for a step in the right direction. I hope that Wisconsin and our nation can continue to learn from COVID-19 and improve preparedness measures for the future.”

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