Republicans met secretly to discuss self-insurance, Democrats say

By David Wahlberg, Wisconsin State Journal

Republicans on the state Legislature’s budget committee privately discussed Gov. Scott Walker’s planned move to self-insurance for state workers with state staff and consultants, without including Democrats on the committee, the Democrats said Thursday.

“The Joint Committee on Finance is the only legislative body with oversight of this law change, which will affect over 250,000 Wisconsinites directly and all of the taxpayers of this state,” the four Democrats on the 16-member committee said in a letter to the committee’s co-chairs.

“Any briefing with (the state Department of Employee Trust Funds) on matters before the committee should be done in public, in accordance with not just the letter but the spirit of the law,” they wrote.

The committee co-chairs, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said in a statement that briefings were held in compliance with state open meetings law.

“The briefings were informative and helpful in understanding how the proposal may impact the people of Wisconsin,” they said.

“We highly suggest the Democrats conduct their own research on this important issue rather than playing political games,” they said.

Nygren has said the committee will hold a hearing on self-insurance before it decides whether to approve it.

The Democrats’ letter said Republicans on the committee met Wednesday with ETF staff, who administer state worker benefits, and the department’s consultant, Segal Consulting, to discuss self-insurance.

The Group Insurance Board, which oversees state worker benefits, voted last month to self-insure state workers beginning next year, but the move must be approved by the budget committee.

Under self-insurance, the state would pay medical claims directly, using regional administrators, instead of paying premiums to 17 HMOs, which currently accept the risk for medical claims.

Walker’s 2017-19 budget assumes $60 million in savings from the change, to be directed to public education.

Self-insurance is common among large employers. But the move has been controversial because the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans, other health care groups and some legislators — including the Republican leaders of the budget committee — have said it could significantly impact the state’s HMOs, many of which are owned by the state’s regional health systems.

The Democrats on the budget committee — Sen. Jon Erpenbach, of Middleton, Rep. Gordon Hintz, of Oshkosh, Sen. Lena Taylor, of Milwaukee, and Rep. Katrina Shankland, of Stevens Point — said the meeting should have been public because the Republicans discussed self-insurance, a matter before the committee.

ETF spokesman Mark Lamkins didn’t respond to a request for comment.