Drug Costs, Child and Long-Term Care, and Marijuana Legalization Will be Focuses of Gov. Evers’ Budget Proposal Next Week

Governor Tony Evers will unveil his proposed 2021-23 state budget following his budget address on Tuesday, February 16. In various statements and press releases since the beginning of the year, the governor has previewed some of the policies and funding priorities that he will propose.

Prescription Drug Prices

On February 3, Gov. Evers announced that his upcoming state budget proposal will include policies aimed at reducing prescription drug prices and costs. Among those proposals is a $50 cap on copays for insulin and the elimination of drug copays for BadgerCare participants. In addition, the governor’s budget will propose requiring insurers in some circumstances to apply discounts and coupons to deductibles and annual out-of-pocket maximums. His budget will also allow the state to import prescription drugs and create a new state-local entity to increase the government’s purchasing power and reduce costs.

Gov. Evers’ budget will propose creating two new oversight entities: a state board with the power to set price limits and establish prescription drug spending targets for public sector entities, and an office to oversee and regulate the pharmaceutical supply chain, along with requiring more transparency and reporting across the prescription drug supply chain. Many of the governor’s proposals are drawn from a report issued last year by the Governor’s Task Force on Reducing Prescription Drug Prices.

Childcare and Long-Term Care

On February 9, Gov. Evers announced that his 2021-23 budget will propose $106 million in new funding for childcare initiatives. Most of this money would go towards various grants for childcare providers. His budget would also allow individuals to use leave guaranteed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take off work when their childcare provider is closed.

Gov. Evers’ budget will also propose a variety of initiatives, totaling $600 million, to support long-term care and caregiving in Wisconsin. That includes a total of $240 million to increase nursing home reimbursement rates, and the creation of a caregiving tax credit for family caregivers costing $200 million.

Mental Health, Telehealth, and Crisis Intervention/Emergency Detention

On February 10, the governor announced that his executive budget will include $150 million to fund mental health initiatives and expand the availability of mental health services through BadgerCare, including $40 million to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for outpatient mental health care. The governor’s proposal also includes $54 million for schools in the form of mental health aids and grants as well as programming through the Department of Public Instruction.

The governor’s budget will require telehealth parity, barring insurers from denying coverage for a telehealth service if an in-person version of that service is covered by an individual’s health plan. Additionally, the governor will propose reforms to crisis intervention and emergency detention procedures, and provide $25 million to fund crisis facilities, mental health response training for law enforcement officers, and other related programs.

Other Proposals: Legalizing Marijuana, Supporting the Agricultural Industry, and Funding Broadband Development

On February 7, Gov. Evers announced in a press release that his budget proposal will include the legalization of recreational marijuana. The governor’s release claims the change would “increase revenue, create jobs, and reduce criminal justice system costs.” According to one estimate, the governor’s proposal would generate more than $165 million in tax revenue annually beginning in fiscal year 2023. His budget would set aside $30 million of that money for “equity grants” and $34 million in sparsity aid for rural school districts. Remaining revenue would go the state’s general fund. The governor’s 2019-21 budget proposed the legalization of medical marijuana; this provision was removed from the final budget by Republicans in the Legislature.

On February 5, Gov. Evers announced that his budget would propose $43 million in spending to support the agricultural industry. According to a press release, this money would fund various programs and grants aimed at “expanding market opportunities, supporting new and innovative farming practices, strengthening the agricultural workforce, connecting local producers to foodbanks and pantries, and supporting farmer mental health and wellbeing.” Some of these policies were recommended in a report issued by the governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity late last year.

As we reported a few weeks ago, the governor mentioned another aspect of his budget proposal in his third annual State of the State address delivered on Tuesday, January 12. Declaring 2021 to be the “Year of Broadband,” Gov. Evers said his budget proposal will include about $205 million for various broadband initiatives. Most of this funding ($150 million) would go to broadband expansion grants that would combine with federal and private funding sources to expand broadband in areas with little or no internet access. His budget will also feature $40 million to reduce internet service costs for low-income families, a grant program to reduce the cost of line extensions, and reforms to encourage municipalities and electrical cooperatives to help expand broadband service.

JFC Co-Chairs Ask Evers to Avoid Excessive Taxes and Spending and Non-Fiscal Items

On February 2, the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) sent a letter to Gov. Evers asking him to avoid proposing significant tax and spending increases and to leave non-fiscal policy items out of his 2021-23 budget proposal. Citing recent revenue projections and the balance of the state’s rainy day fund, the letter from Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Representative Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) claimed that “All of these fiscal achievements are due to legislative Republican leadership, reforms and responsible budgeting over the last decade. … You have the immense luxury of starting your plan with an impressive surplus because we have made extraordinary efforts to protect the state’s checkbook.”