The full State Senate voted by a voice vote earlier today to pass an amended version of COVID-19 legislation adopted by the State Assembly last week. Governor Evers issued a statement after the vote saying that he supports the bill as amended by the Senate and will sign it if it makes it to his desk. Before that can happen, the State Assembly will need to vote to concur in the Senate’s amended version of the bill.
The Senate Committee on Organization adopted an amendment to the bill on Monday that removed several controversial items from Assembly Bill 1 as originally drafted. The amendment removed language placing restrictions of local public health departments' ability to close businesses and language that would have banned employers from requiring their employees to receive COVID-19 vaccines. It also removed language that would have required schools to receive approval from their school board before moving to virtual instruction. Shortly before voting, the full Senate further amended their version of the bill to:
Allow hospitals to receive Medicaid reimbursement for some hospital services provided in home settings until January 1, 2022.
Require the Department of Health Services to provide the state’s contracted aggregator with Medicaid fee-for-service and managed care claims data. The health care aggregator must de-identify the data and make it public.
Allow the Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development to waive certain current law restrictions related to extended unemployment benefit timeframes.
Exempt administration of a COVID-19 vaccine from the surprise billing provisions that cap physician reimbursement for out-of-network services related to COVID-19 at 225% of the Medicare rate.
Remove language that would have allowed businesses to receive a civil liability exemption for the purposes of COVID-19 lawsuits even if they failed to comply with government regulations related to business closures or capacity limits. Businesses will still have immunity under the bill just not for situations that were reckless or misconduct.
Tweak liability exemptions for health care providers during COVID-19.
Highlights of the bill as passed by the Senate include:
General COVID-19 Response
Coverage of COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination without Cost-Sharing: Requires health plans to cover COVID-19 testing and vaccinations without cost-sharing until June 30, 2021.
State Funding: Authorizes the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to transfer up to $100 million between state appropriation accounts.
Prescription Extension: Allows a pharmacist to refill a prescription for a 30-day supply without contacting the prescribing physician through June 30, 2021.
Other Prescription Drug Protections: Prohibits insurers through June 30, 2021 from requiring prior authorization for early refills or placing other restrictions on refills, such as limiting refill supplies to less than 90-days.
Nursing Home and Assisted Living Visitors: Allows a nursing home or assisted living resident, their guardian or health care agent to designate an essential visitor to visit and provide support to the resident in compassionate care situations. The resident's guardian or health care agent under a power of attorney is also considered an essential visitor. A nursing home or assisted living facility may refuse to allow access for visitation to any essential visitor who refuses to comply with public health policies of the nursing home or assisted living facility
Civil Liability: Creates a civil liability exemption for entities such as businesses, nonprofits, associations, schools, tribes, governmental entities and others related to COVID-19 exposure, death or damages. The exemption also covers employees, independent contractors or volunteers of an entity. The Senate ultimately removed language that would have allowed businesses to be exempt even if they ignored government guidance related to closures or capacity limits.
College Credit for Helping with COVID-19 Response: Requires the UW System and technical colleges to offer students an opportunity to satisfy course requirements using time spent volunteering or working to assist Wisconsin in responding to COVID-19.
Reports on Virtual Instruction: Requires school boards to submit reports on virtual learning to the Department of Public Instruction following each semester in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. One of the required elements of the report is a description of any challenges or barriers the school board faced related to implementing virtual instruction. DPI must then compile this information into a report for the Legislature.
BCPL Loans: Allows the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to loan money to cities, villages, and towns to ensure that a municipal utility under the control of the city, village, or town is able to maintain liquidity. This authorization would end on April 15, 2021.
Rehiring WRS Retirees: Allows a Wisconsin Retirement System Retiree to return to work without suspending their annuity if they return to work in a critical position during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retirees must wait at least 15 days after leaving their job before they return to work at a WRS-covered position.
Waiver of Rules for the School Choice Program: Extends DPI’s authority to waive certain rules related to the school choice or special needs scholarship programs through October 31, 2021. DPI's waiver authority does not apply to requirements to administer pupil assessments.
UI Backlog: Requires the Department of Workforce Development to publish a plan on addressing the unemployment insurance claims backlog within 30 days of the bill becoming law.
UI Call Centers: Requires the Department of Workforce Development to extend unemployment insurance call center hours to 12 hours per day, 7 days per week.
UI Waiting Period: Extends the waiver of the state’s one week waiting period for unemployment insurance to March 14, 2021.
Extended Benefit Periods: Allows the Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development to waive certain current law restrictions related to extended unemployment benefit timeframes.