Republicans Move to Use State Power to Raise Dental Costs, Increase Regulations
Republicans campaigned on the promise of reducing government and championing free markets, but Republican leaders in the Assembly may be prepared to go back on that promise for at least one special interest lobby. On Wednesday, Speaker Robin Vos (R) will move to use the state’s power to unilaterally re-write contracts between Wisconsin dentists and Wisconsin dental insurance companies. Those opposed to the legislation compellingly argue that the state should not use its powers to abusively intrude upon, and rewrite, private business contracts.
The Wisconsin Dental Association, a powerful lobby made up of dentists around the state, is asking lawmakers to pass legislation that would unilaterally change existing contracts between dentists and the dental insurers. The legislation, AB 109 and SB 131, forces a change in insurance contracts so that insurance companies cannot require contracting dentists to charge less for certain services provided to in-network patients. Existing law allows insurance companies to negotiate with dentists to reduce the prices they charge patients who are members of that insurance plan.
Dentists, frustrated with having to give price breaks to some Wisconsin patients, will be able to raise the cost of dental care in Wisconsin thanks to the legislation.
Left to foot the bill for the political give and take are average Wisconsin citizens who will likely be paying more for dental work because their insurance company is no longer able to negotiate a lower price for them.
Increasing business regulation, and using the power of the state to change private contracts, is not normally a Republican position. But when powerful special interests become involved and campaign contributions are received, the dynamic appears to change. Speaker Robin Vos (R) has received at least $13,375 in campaign contributions from dentists according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Among the groups opposed to the dental bill is Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a pro-free market business group. WMC sent a memo to legislators on Wednesday morning well in advance of the scheduled vote.
“Proposals like this, however, move Wisconsin in the wrong direction. Regardless of the subject matter, the wrong message is sent to the business community when the state government starts picking winners and losers in private-party contract disputes,” the memo read.
Republican legislators in the past have joined Governor Scott Walker (R) in calling for a reform of Wisconsin’s business climate, which is heavily regulated. Efforts were made last session to start the work of reform, and this session Republicans are making an even more concerted effort to identify existing regulatory roadblocks to economic freedom and growth.
According to WMC, the dental bill runs counter to these efforts.
“This legislation would erode the freedom of contract in our state by proposing to legislatively define the terms under which businesses must contract with one another. It sets a poor precedent for the expanded intrusion of government into the day-to-day transactions of businesses, and undermines economic liberty in our state.”
Wisconsin ranks among the 10 worst states in the nation for business taxes and business climate, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation.