The Wisconsin Legislature's budget committee voted Tuesday to nix the governor's plan to take more than $179 million out of the state's medical malpractice fund to help balance the state deficit, saying it was not an appropriate use of the money.
Gov. Jim Doyle proposed using the money to pay for medical assistance programs that provide healthcare coverage for the elderly and poor. But the Joint Finance Committee rejected the proposal 14-2 as part of its revisions to Doyle's budget bill.
Joint Finance Committee co-chairman Rep. Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) said the move would force the committee to dig deeper to come up with money to fix the state's projected $1.6 billion deficit for the next two-year budget.
The Legislature's fiscal analysts notified the committee Monday that the state could expect an additional $126.4 million in tax collections over the next two years to help ease the shortfall.
Kaufert said the committee's move essentially wipes out that good news. But he said the medical malpractice money was built up by a fee assessed on healthcare providers in Wisconsin and has been credited as a major reason why state doctors pay less for malpractice insurance than in other states.
Wisconsin is one of six states whose medical liability systems are not in crisis or showing problem signs, according to the American Medical Association.
Doyle spokeswoman Melanie Fonder said the governor made funding healthcare programs a priority in his budget proposal, and using money from a fund with $740 million in assets made sense. She said he believed that money would be better used to ensure the financial stability of programs such as BadgerCare, which provides healthcare for the working poor, and SeniorCare, the state's prescription drug program than to sit unused during a tight budget.
"Without those funds, the alternatives are ending SeniorCare and BadgerCare," Fonder said. "Those are options that are indefensible when there is a fund that is totally off-limits when there is three-quarters of a billion dollars in it."