Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Some are reacting cautiously to Gov. Tony Evers’ announcement that he plans to include provisions in his budget to borrow $70 million to address water quality and $43.4 million for an effort to improve access to dental care.

Wisconsin Conservation Voters said it was encouraged by Evers’ roll out on water quality, which includes $40 million to replace lead service lines. Others said they were still looking at the details of the proposal, including the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee.

In announcing the dental initiative, the guv’s office cited figures from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that found 204 dental providers are needed to eliminate health shortage area designations in the state.

Evers said increasing access requires a comprehensive approach.

“These are critically important initiatives and I’m proud to invest in these programs that will improve the health and wellness of folks all over Wisconsin,” Evers said.

His plan calls for:

*establishing a dental therapist licensure, which would create a mid-level dental provider in Wisconsin. Dental therapists in other states are similar to nurse practitioners and are licensed to perform routine work such as filings. The initiative would include funding to Wisconsin colleges willing to create a dental therapist training program, and the guv’s office said Northcentral Technical College and Chippewa Valley Technical College have shown early interest.

*increasing the number of low-income dental clinics eligible for grant funding to provide services to Medicaid patients and the uninsured. According to the guv’s office, each year about 20 clinics apply for funding, but only 11 receive it. The money would increase the number of clinics receiving an award.

*increase reimbursement rates for dental providers if they hit certain marks for the percent of their patients who are in Medical Assistance. That would include a 50 percent reimbursement rate for non-profits if at least half of their patients are in MA, while it would be 30 percent for for-profit providers if they at least 5 percent of their patients are in MA. According to the guv’s office, 57 percent of dental providers have a patient base of less than 5 percent in MA.

*expanding the rural dental loan repayment program to incentivize providers serving rural areas. Now, physicians can receive $100,000 over a three-year period to help repay loans if they serve in rural areas. Dentists are eligible for $50,000 over three years, but the proposal would boost that to $100,000.

*and widening the “Seal-A-Smile” program, which provides preventive services to children in grades K-12, to additional schools.

Altogether, the proposal includes $21.8 million in general purpose revenue with the other half from federal aid.

The Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association said it appreciated Evers’ focus on low-income and underserved communities.

Meanwhile, Matt Rossetto, director of government services for the Wisconsin Dental Association, said the group supports a multi-pronged approach to improving access. But he added the group wasn’t consulted as Evers put together the package and was still looking for details such as the financing.

“We think it’s great. We simply wish we’d been consulted at all in this matter before they decided to put it out,” Rossetto said.

A spokesman for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group, said it was still studying details of Evers’ proposal on clean water.

Wisconsin Conservation Voters Government Affairs Director Jennifer Giegerich called Evers’ focus on the issue refreshing.

“If this year is going to be the year of clean drinking water, legislators now must join that fight,” she said.

The water proposal includes:

*$40 million in general obligation bonding over the biennium to replace lead service lines. Municipalities would be eligible for forgivable loans to cover up to 50 percent of the cost to replace the lines. It would replace about 16,000 of the estimated 170,000 lead service lines in the state.

*$25 million in additional bonding to clean up contaminated sediment targeting five areas, three in the Milwaukee River and two in the St. Louis River.

*$10 million in bonding for soil and water resource management, an increase from $7 million. The cost sharing program through DATCP provides grants to farmers to help reduce non-point water pollution from agriculture.

*$6.5 million in bonding, up from $6.15 million, for target runoff management. The DNR program provides cost sharing grants to local governments.

*$400,000 in segregated funds annually, up from $100,000, for non-bonded target runoff management projects. According to the guv’s office, the majority of the funding increase would be used related to the karst Silurian Bedrock area, which runs south from Door County to Milwaukee County.

*$4 million in bonding, up from $3.7 million, for urban non-point stormwater management. The program provides cost sharing grants to local governments to reduce stormwater runoff.

*$730,000 in segregated funds each year of the biennium for non-point related contractual services. That includes: $300,000 to UW-Extension for education and outreach to farmers; $180,000 for software to provide data to farmers as they make decisions about the use of commercial fertilizers; $75,000 to maintain a non-point best management practices website; and $20,000 to UW Center of Land Use Education to help property owners with education and technical assistance.

See details of the dental plan:
https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/190211Dental.pdf 

See an overview of the water proposal:
https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/evers-clean-water-initiatives/

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