MON AM News: Advocates seek Medicaid coverage of acupuncture therapy; Wisconsin reports first South African COVID variant case

— Expanding Medicaid benefits to include acupuncture therapy could aid Wisconsin’s fight against the opioid epidemic as well as treat mental health issues and addiction, advocates say.

In Gov. Tony Evers’ latest budget proposal, he recommended expanding Medicaid benefits to include services provided by a certified acupuncturist. It’s estimated to cost nearly $1.3 million in GPR with another $1.9 million in federal funds. Evers also last year declared Oct. 24 Acupuncture Medicine Day.

This provision was not in the guv’s first budget, but similar legislation was introduced in the HOPE Agenda last year, sponsored by former Republican Rep. John Nygren. Nygren, a longtime advocate for opioid addiction services in the state, proposed expanding BadgerCare coverage for acupuncture services as an alternative to opioids for pain management. It passed the Assembly 97-1 in January 2020 but went nowhere in the Senate.

Oregon and Minnesota Medicaid cover acupuncture, as do commercial payers Aetna and Cigna. Acupuncture is also covered as part of the VA Complementary and Integrative Health benefit, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Kelly Hora, a past president of the Wisconsin Society of Acupuncturists, has been practicing acupuncture in Madison for 16 years. She now serves on the advocacy committee for the society and has testified before the Senate and Assembly health committees in support of Medicaid expansion to include acupuncture.

“So many of our patients are people who are seeking alternatives to opioids to help them with their pain conditions,” Hora said. She noted that while acupuncture’s role as a nonaddictive pain management service is in the spotlight, it’s applicable to many other conditions. 

Read the full story here: 

— State health officials have identified the South African coronavirus variant in Wisconsin. It’s the state’s second variant.

The variant strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, differs from variant B.1.1.7, the U.K. variant identified in Wisconsin on Jan. 12. The new variant, B.1.351, was first identified in South Africa in October. To date, 26 cases of variant B.1.1.7 and one case of variant B.1.351 have been identified in Wisconsin.

Researchers have found that this new strain, similar to B.1.1.7, spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. It is not yet known if this variant has any impact on disease severity. There is some evidence to suggest that this variant may affect how some antibodies respond to the virus. Experts expect that all three currently authorized vaccines effectively reduce the risk of COVID-19 for all of the circulating variants, according to DHS.

Strains are identified through ongoing surveillance and whole-genome sequencing, a routine practice since the pandemic began. All viruses change through mutation.

“Because these variants may spread more easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, mask wearing, staying home, physically distancing, and washing your hands continues to be crucial,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk.

— Wisconsin has put more than 1.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in people’s arms. According to DHS’ vaccine dashboard, 10.3 percent of Wisconsinites are fully vaccinated.

More than 18 percent of Wisconsinites — 1 million people — have gotten at least the first dose. Nearly 62 percent of Wisconsinites age 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Wisconsin ranks near the top 10 and first among its neighbors for the number of doses administered per 100,000 people, according to the global database Global Change Data Lab.

Bloomberg ranks the Badger State No. 1 in the nation in percentage of doses administered. 

— This year, federal patient safety penalties applied to 13 Wisconsin hospitals — a 28 percent reduction from last year, according to a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government cuts payments to hospitals that have the highest numbers of infections and patient injuries. The Hospital Acquired-Condition Reduction Program imposes a 1 percent reduction to Medicare inpatient payments for hospitals over the federal fiscal year.

Several institutions are exempt from the HAC program, including rehab, long-term care, psychiatric, children’s, cancer and veterans affairs facilities, among others.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association noted the penalties are applied to hospitals based on data that may be up to two years old, in which case, hospitals have already taken corrective measures. WHA also pointed out that the HAC Reduction Program administers penalties in bulk to the worst-performing quartile of hospitals, meaning that 25 percent of the nation’s hospitals are penalized each year.

— Looking ahead, WHA expressed confidence COVID-19 won’t cause a spike in penalties for Wisconsin hospitals because of reinforced patient safety during the pandemic.

“Hospitals with significant ICU footprints performing highly invasive work have increased risks of HACs,” the association explained. “Wisconsin hospitals are meeting this increased risk by adopting careful infection control measures in the context of the pandemic.”

WHA’s CheckPoint is a voluntary reporting tool available for hospitals to benchmark their progress against other state hospitals and make comparisons to national averages. The latest data — from July 2019 to June 2020 — shows collectively, Wisconsin hospitals are outperforming the national averages for infections.

See hospitals impacted by the HAC using the KFF search engine here: 

See the CheckPoint hospital comparison tool here:  

<i>For more of the most relevant news on the coronavirus outbreak, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin and links to top stories, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from and

Sign up here: </i>

— The Department of Workforce Development has started making payments to thousands of people waiting for federal pandemic emergency relief, but claimants can still expect delays.

The federal Continued Assistance Act that went into effect on Dec. 27 extended the emergency benefits, providing an additional 11 weeks of payments to people who qualify. DWD blames the state’s “antiquated” UI system for delaying the implementation of the federal extensions. The first additional payments under the program went out Thursday.

As of Friday, DWD has sent out PEUC benefit payments to 29,118 people across the state. The money includes all back payments and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation add-ons, for a total of more than $102 million. Roughly 1,700 claims could not be processed automatically due to outstanding issues. DWD expects to process those within the next two weeks. 

The Continued Assistance Act created four new unemployment programs and extensions in response to the pandemic. But DWD said the computer system doesn’t allow for the programs to launch all at once, adding that some new benefits are still weeks away. The target launch for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is April 21.

See the department’s progress tracker: 

— First Associated Insurance Agencies is launching a new digital training program that aims to put business owners in control of new COVID-19 related OSHA regulations.

In an executive order signed Jan. 21, President Biden, OSHA and the CDC required employers to provide COVID-19 training to employees and implement new health and safety regulations. First Associated Insurance Agencies in Brookfield partnered up with MKE Video to produce a virtual training program series for businesses.

“Since March 2020, COVID-specific OSHA violations have topped $4 million, with increasing numbers of complaints each month,” said Cheryl Litvin, an OSHA trainer for First Associated Insurance. “The new digital system will ease the training and documentation requirements while reducing the potential for a COVID-related OSHA violation.”

The three-part digital series covers the important points of the new OSHA and CDC regulations for back-to-work guidelines. The online program was rolled out initially in February. It’s available for businesses to purchase ahead of the March 15 deadline to implement the new health and safety regulations.

— Milwaukee-based Hispanic Federation will use a $30,000 digital education grant from Spectrum to enhance the nonprofit SER Jobs for Progress’ programs in Milwaukee.

The grant will help SER bring computer literacy workshops to senior citizens and Latino communities in the city. Currently, SER offers STEM, occupational skills and financial literacy programs for these communities.

According to Brent Wilkes, the federation’s senior vice president for institutional development, the pandemic has moved entire businesses online and has caused marginalized communities in Milwaukee, struggling with internet access and computer literacy, to fall further behind.

Hispanic Federation was one of 259 organizations across 41 states, and Washington D.C., that applied for a grant from Spectrum Digital Education, a philanthropic program run by Charter Communications. 


# Vaccinators play ‘wait-and-see game’, scheduling appointments based on supply estimates 

# 5 investors launch Milwaukee Venture Partners to support local startups

# ‘Obviously it’s a loss’: WIAA tournament moving from Madison carries economic impact 



– WSFP Board Making Plans for 2021 State Fair 


– UW-Stout plans in-person graduation 


– New Wolf Management Committee Seeking Members 


– Wisconsin Teachers Were Vaccine Eligible Starting March 1, But Rollout Has Been Uneven 


– Rural Mutual Insurance Declares 5% Farm Dividend for Fifth Year 


– More Than 50 Plaintiffs Bring Lawsuit Against City Of Wauwatosa For Handling Of Protests 


– State Cheese Production Continues to Climb 


– Tranel urges Evers to take action on World Dairy Expo 


– Lake Michigan water diversion would open more Kenosha County land for business parks 


– EC tavern owner charged with allowing patrons inside during COVID-19 shutdown 


– Activist investors critical of Kohl’s earnings report 


– Bonus Harvest Authorizations For Spring Turkey Season Available Beginning March 15 


– Report: Milwaukee ranks 43rd for best U.S. cities for women in tech 


– Wisconsin’s outdoor recreation industry thrives in 2020 


– Spring ice breaking begins Wednesday on Duluth, Superior harbors 


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

– UW-Stout: Announces in-person commencement ceremony, for graduates only

– New North Summit: Program set for virtual event, early registration rate ends today

– AG Kaul: Joins FTC, 38 states, and D.C. to shut down massive charity fraud telefunding operation

– Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board: Virtual job fair to be held March 19