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Lawmakers roll out ‘Healthcare Heroes Act’ to support frontline medical workers during pandemic

NOW: Lawmakers roll out ‘Healthcare Heroes Act’ to support frontline medical workers during pandemic

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Democratic lawmakers announced legislation to support certain health care workers who have been at the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.

The Healthcare Heroes Act would provide certain health care workers hazard pay, paid medical leave as well as insurance coverage for those who need it that would cover COVID-19 testing and treatment. It would also expand Medicaid in the state.

“These workers are telling us this is what they need and this is what they deserve,” Rep. Robyn Vining (D – Wauwatosa) said during a virtual news conference. “We as legislators hear this. We agree. And so, we’re taking action.”

According to the Department of Health Services, health care workers account for approximately nine percent – or more than 2,600 cases – of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Health care workers who participated in the news conference today said they appreciate the support they have received from their communities but believe lawmakers need to put words into action.

“Several nurses in the hospital that I work in have already been diagnosed with COVID,” Connie Smith, a registered nurse in Milwaukee said. “I’d be able to do my job a lot easier if I didn’t have the anxiety that the cost of treatment could come to my family.”

“I’m constantly worried about my exposure to COVID-19 and if I’m bringing it home to my family,” Victoria Gutierrez, a nurse in Madison said. “Every front-line health care worker deserves to know that we can continue to support our families and pay our bills despite enduring serious effects from this pandemic.”

The legislation will need bipartisan support in order to get through.

CBS 58 reached out to the offices of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

The inclusion of Medicaid expansion in the bill may potentially be a tough sell as Republicans have not supported the proposal since Gov. Tony Evers took office, despite recent Marquette University Law School polling showing overwhelming support for it.

But Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D – West Point) said the pandemic has significantly changed the state’s financial standing and the expansion of Medicaid is a necessary fiscal decision for lawmakers.

“Financially we are not okay now and we will not be okay in the next budget. We are going to need money,” Erpenbach said. “That alone, if you take a look at our bottom line just on dollars and cents, for us to say ‘no’ to the Medicaid expansion, financially, is a stupid thing to do.”

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