Our Views: Bipartisan plan could boost Rock County's free medical clinics

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

We hear a lot about bitter partisanship and a lack of cooperation in our state Capitol.

More evidence emerged last week, however, that sets aside the notion that lawmakers can't work together.

On Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker signed a venture capital bill that had widespread support. Sens. Tim Cullen, a Janesville Democrat, and Alberta Darling, a River Hills Republican, were co-authors. The legislation passed both legislative houses with only five “no” votes. It provides $25 million in state support—with matching private money—for startup companies. Cullen says the legislation includes a “strict firewall” that will keep politicians from meddling in investment decisions.

Also Thursday, Reps. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, announced they've written legislation to help free medical clinics. The bill is designed to boost volunteerism at clinics such as HealthNet of Rock County and Open Arms Clinic in Walworth County. It would plug a gap in state law that prevents advanced nurse practitioners with prescription authority—as well as those in several other professions—from fully volunteering at such clinics because of liability issues. Kolste got a first-hand look at the dilemma through her years of helping at HealthNet.

“This is going to be huge for free clinics,” Ryan Messinger, HealthNet's clinical operations director, told The Gazette in a story Friday.

Jean Randles, HealthNet's executive director, concurs.

“With the addition of these medical/dental professionals, free clinics across Wisconsin would be able to attract a larger pool of volunteers that provide medical/dental services to individuals most in need,” Randles said in an email to The Gazette. “This is essential to HealthNet—a volunteer-based clinic. With the additional volunteer opportunities, HealthNet can increase clinic hour and patient services.”

Make no mistake—as Obamacare is implemented, the need for free clinics won't disappear. These clinics might wind up serving even more patients.

“There will be a number of individuals who will not be covered or who will make a decision to not be covered under the Affordable Care Act,” Randles told The Gazette in a story July 10.

Some people will be cut from BadgerCare coverage. Others won't be able to afford the insurance and instead will pay penalties for not having coverage.

“We don't really have a true understanding of how many people we'll continue to serve,” Randles said.

The legislation authored by Loudenbeck and Kolste will help free clinics as they continue to serve the poorest among us.

Those supporting the venture capital bill deserve applause. So do these lawmakers who have crafted a solution to this volunteerism roadblock. Contact your lawmakers and encourage them to support it.

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