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Wisconsin Governor Could Create Public Option

SCOTT BAUER   04/ 8/10 04:25 PM ET   AP

Wisconsin Public Option

MADISON, Wis. — Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle could use his veto power to create a state-funded public option health insurance plan in Wisconsin that would extend coverage to virtually everyone, according to a memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The memo obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday was requested by the Republican leader of the state Assembly, Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, and delivered April 2.

Doyle's office adamantly denied that the governor planned to do any such thing.

"The suggestion is ridiculous," Doyle spokesman Adam Collins said. "This is just another desperate attempt by a few Republicans to stop a good program that will help tens of thousands of people get access to very basic health care at no cost to taxpayers."

The lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, also denied that was the goal.

"This grand conspiracy out there that there's going to be some grand public option isn't realistic," Erpenbach said.

Many things would have to happen in order for Doyle to do what the memo says he can.

First, the Legislature must approve a bill backed by Doyle that creates a state-run program for 34,000 adults with no minor children currently on a waiting list for the BadgerCare health insurance program. That bill passed the Senate in February and is expected to pass the Assembly later this month.

Under that proposal, only childless adults who meet income guidelines and who have applied for the BadgerCare Core Plan but have been placed on a waiting list could qualify for the new program, dubbed BadgerCare Basic.

Assuming the bill passes in its current form, it would then head to Doyle to either sign or veto. The Fiscal Bureau, writing at Fitzgerald's request, said Doyle could use his expansive line-item veto power on the bill to create a much broader health insurance program.

Essentially, Doyle could eliminate the requirements that the state-run program be available only to those on the waiting list. He could also veto any limits on the benefits that people in the program could receive, the memo said.

The bill as it passed the Senate allows for only very limited benefits, such as doctor's visits and prescription drugs, which would be paid for through premiums and copays. Doyle and backers of the plan tout it as being self-funded, with no contribution from the state.

Republicans have said the state could end up footing the bill if premiums aren't enough to pay for it.

The Fiscal Bureau memo, written by the office's director Bob Lang, notes that Doyle could expand the program and have it be paid for at least in part by the state Department of Health Services, but there is no additional funding available to do that.

Fitzgerald said he asked for the opinion because he wondered if the potential was out there for Doyle to expand the program through his veto, but he had no reason to believe that was the governor's plan.

"I just thought it was interesting what he could do with just a couple strikes of the pen." Fitzgerald said.

What happens to the 34,000 people on Wisconsin's waiting list could be a moot point under the new federal health care law. The majority of those people are expected to receive coverage under that law starting in 2014.

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Filed by Jeff Muskus  |