Wisconsin Senate majority leader says GOP would pass pre-existing guarantee

MADISON — Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald seesawed Tuesday on whether his majority would pass a bill guaranteeing insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, first questioning whether there was enough support to do so before declaring a few hours later that the chamber would pass it "if it becomes necessary."

The issue is playing a major role in the state's races for governor and U.S. Senate. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has promised that as long as he's governor, people with pre-existing conditions will be covered in Wisconsin. But Walker also supports repealing the federal Affordable Care Act law that includes the guarantee, and he authorized Wisconsin to join a multi-state federal lawsuit seeking to overturn it.

Walker has said that if the law is repealed, he would call a special session of the Legislature "in a heartbeat" to pass a state law guaranteeing coverage of pre-existing conditions. He called for the Legislature to back such legislation this year, and although the Assembly passed it, it died in the Senate. Democrats opposed it because it would allow insurance companies to charge more if a patient had a gap in coverage.

Fitzgerald, speaking to reporters after a Wispolitics.com event Tuesday, said he didn't know if there was enough support to pass it now. Republicans control the Senate 18-15.

"I wouldn't rule it out, because obviously it's generated a lot of heat during this campaign and the election cycle," Fitzgerald said. "But I know I've got members that probably are not on board, which is one of the reasons that it wasn't something that we tackled at the end of session."

A few hours later, Fitzgerald reversed course, issuing a statement saying: "Pre-existing conditions are covered right now, and I support that policy. If it becomes necessary to cover them in the future, the Senate would pass a bill to do so."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers supports the federal law and has made Walker's opposition to it a central part of his campaign. Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin also supports the federal law while her challenger, Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir, wants to repeal it. Like Walker, Vukmir has said she supports putting in place an insurance protection in state law for people with pre-existing conditions.

Democrats have assailed Walker and Vukmir on the issue. Walker on Monday insisted that for him the issue is personal, noting that his mother is a cancer survivor, his wife has diabetes and his brother has a heart condition.

But to enact a state protection, it would have to pass the Legislature.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a telephone interview that he was doing "everything in my power to make sure that bill passes whenever the Legislature comes back." The Legislature could return in a lame duck session after the election and Vos said he hoped the Senate would take up the measure then.