FRI AM News: WisBusiness: the Podcast with Nathan Houdek, Commissioner of Insurance for Wisconsin; January home sales for Milwaukee area nearly even with last January

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Nathan Houdek, the state’s Commissioner of Insurance. 

He discusses some of the reasons that higher enrollment numbers were seen during the latest open enrollment period in Wisconsin. A total of 212,209 Wisconsinites signed up for health insurance through between Nov. 1, 2021, and Jan. 15, 2022. That’s the highest that number has been since the enrollment period for 2018. 

Houdek attributes the higher enrollment figure to three main factors, including the coverage partnership between the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and the state Department of Health Services established in 2019 by Gov. Tony Evers. 

“That’s really helped us develop smarter messaging, helped us coordinate our outreach and marketing efforts, and to build a network of supporters that really help encourage enrollment,” he said. 

Other factors include $2 million in new funding provided by Evers last year to Covering Wisconsin, the state’s main navigator organization, and more health care coverage subsidies created by the American Rescue Plan Act. 

“We saw more affordable health care coverage options available for more people, and that was really beneficial as people were shopping for coverage during this past open enrollment period,” he said. 

He also addresses the trend seen before this year, in which enrollment numbers in the state had been declining year over year. And he touches on efforts by health insurance navigators in the state, including some of the challenges they face during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Listen to the podcast here:  

See a full list of podcasts: 

— January home sales in metro Milwaukee were nearly even with last January, with one fewer unit sold. 

A total of 1,188 homes were sold in the four-county Milwaukee region last month, compared to the record 1,189 sales in January 2021. That’s according to the latest report from the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors. 

“That is essentially even with 2021, and being even with the best January ever is a good place to start the new year,” the group wrote in its report. 

It shows sales were mixed across those four counties, but GMAR says the differences are “nothing that should be of concern.” Sales were 4.8 percent higher in Milwaukee County over the year, and sales in Washington County were 24.7 percent higher. Waukesha and Ozaukee counties both had lower sales over the year, with decreases of 16.3 percent and 12 percent, respectively. 

Meanwhile, the greater southeastern Wisconsin region — which wraps in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties — had 0.3 percent fewer sales over the year, with a total of 1,585. 

The report also shows new listings for the four-county Milwaukee area increased 5.9 percent over the year, with a total of 1,573 listings in January. 

“This is a positive sign especially as we head into the spring market,” report authors wrote. “Sellers seem to be getting the message that it is a good time to sell.” 

Although GMAR says listings “are trending in the right direction,” the report highlights a significant lack of inventory in the market. It shows 8,725 more units are needed to satisfy current demand, suggesting the seller’s market “will continue for the foreseeable future.”  

See the full report here: 

— Farm and dairy groups in Wisconsin are applauding the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee for releasing over $500,000 for an effort to promote state agricultural exports. 

A total of $5 million overall has been committed to DATCP’s Initiative for Agricultural Exports, which aims to boost exports of Wisconsin dairy, meat and crop products by 25 percent over the next five years. The initiative is a joint effort by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. 

JFC this week approved DATCP’s request for $559,400 in 2021-22 to fund the program. 

“By providing more opportunities for product innovation and new market access, we also provide opportunities for new and existing market development,” Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Krentz said in a statement. 

The Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association notes half of the funds appropriated for the initiative will be focused on milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products. WCMA Executive Director John Umhoefer says demand for Wisconsin dairy “continues to increase” around the world. 

“Our state’s dairy processors are ready to meet that demand, and with this week’s action, they’re one step closer to reaching new consumers and further growing Wisconsin’s world-class dairy industry,” he said. 

Dairy Business Association President Amy Penterman calls the initiative’s target an “ambitious and worthy goal.” 

“Long-term stability and growth for the dairy community rests in large part on the opportunities we have to sell more of our high-quality food around the globe,” she said in a statement. 

Elements of the initiative include creating grants and scholarship opportunities for ag businesses and organizations aimed at meeting its target goals. 

Listen to a recent podcast with Umhoefer: 

— As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, ThedaCare is updating its visitor policies to allow individual visitors for patients without COVID-19. 

The health system had announced tightened visitor restrictions near the end of January, barring visitors for all patients except for “limited, approved, pre-arranged visitation for end of life.” Now that the peak of the omicron surge has passed, the health system says it can safely manage its COVID-19 burden and allow more visitation options. 

“As a person is experiencing a medical situation, our caregivers understand the importance of having a loved one nearby,” said Dr. Michael Hooker, ThedaCare vice president and chief medical officer of acute care. “We are grateful to be in a place where we can once again safely allow for additional visitors in our care spaces.”

Visitor restrictions remain in place for COVID-19 patients, along with other guidelines for clinics, hospice facilities and the Regional Cancer Center in Appleton. All hospitals will continue to have screeners checking patients and others entering the building, and masks are required in ThedaCare’s public areas.

See details on the updated policies: 

— UW Health has begun performing a new non-surgical procedure for patients with congenital heart disease that can greatly reduce recovery times. 

Cole Hefty, a 24-year-old hockey player, in October became the first UW Health patient to receive the Harmony Transcatheter Pulmonary Valve. The device is meant for patients with severe pulmonary valve regurgitation, a common condition for congenital heart disease patients. 

Because it’s delivered to the heart through a catheter, and doesn’t require open-heart surgery, UW Health cardiologist Dr. Luke Lamers says the device is a “gamechanger” for patients. 

“We can now deliver the same benefit that we’ve been providing for our patients in the past but with a far less invasive approach that results in considerably shorter recovery time,” said Lamers, who performed Hefty’s procedure last year. 

According to a release, Hefty was able to leave the hospital less than a day after the operation and resumed ice skating by the end of the week. Without this less invasive option, his recovery would have taken months, the release shows. 

The device also allows doctors to fit another valve within the current one if the patient needs it replaced, reducing the need for further surgeries. 

“Patients with congenital heart disease will frequently require three, four, and sometimes even five open-heart surgeries during their lifetime, but we are hopeful that this device could potentially cut that number down to one,” Lamers said in the release. 

See more: 

— The Wisconsin Building Commission has approved more than $28 million in new projects, including nine maintenance and repair projects across state agencies and the UW System. 

Projects approved include those at the Wisconsin Departments of Corrections, Health Services, Military Affairs, Natural Resources and Transportation. Those along with the UW System projects are located in five counties around the state, a release from Gov. Tony Evers shows. 

The commission also approved the sale of the former DNR Southeast Regional Headquarters and Service Center in Milwaukee to the Bronzeville Center for the Arts, which will become a new space for exhibitions, as well as educational and artistic programming. 

“The projects approved by the Commission today are more than brick-and-mortar developments,” Evers said in the release. “They are improvements to our state’s delivery of essential services, investments in renovations to serve the community, and advancements of Wisconsin’s social, cultural, and educational growth, which will only support our state’s continued success for years to come.” 

See the release: 

— The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will begin accepting applications Feb. 22 for the second round of Workforce Innovation Grants. 

Grants of up to $10 million will be provided for local and regional workforce development efforts, a release shows. The first round of 12 recipients, announced in December, are getting a total of $59.5 million. The Workforce Innovation Grant Program has a total of $100 million available for these projects. 

Applications will be accepted from Feb. 22 to April 15, with grants ranging from $250,000 to $10 million. Funding can be used for things like child care, transportation, worker training, career counseling, coaching services, as well as planning and marketing for pilot programs. 

Recipients for this round of grants will be announced in the summer. 

See the release: 


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– Wisconsin cover crop conference slated for February 24


– Building Commission OKs money for juvenile prison design work


– Madison and Dane County add $35 million for rental assistance


– Sturgeon spearing kicks off Saturday: Here are the latest conditions


– Compeer Financial CEO Rod Hebrink to retire


– SSM Health Wisconsin names new leader

– Gundersen hosting virtual ‘Healthy Living with Diabetes’ program


– American Family sets $23 minimum wage, 34% higher than local average

– American Family Insurance to raise minimum wage to $23 an hour


– JFC releases budget funds to support agriculture exports

– Reckless driving, housing among issues debated at Milwaukee mayoral forum

– Wisconsin Democrats propose ‘one-stop’ small business portal


– 28-story Wauwatosa tower faces appeal, another hearing in March

– Wangard names new CFO, announces several other promotions

– Mixed-use development in Allouez aims to catalyze village’s vision for Webster Avenue


– Kohl’s calls activist investor’s proposals ‘unjustified’ as another possible bidder emerges

– Activist investor Macellum nominates slate of 10 candidates for Kohl’s board


– US men’s Olympic curling team wins first game against Russia


– Graduate of The Water Council’s startup accelerator files for IPO

– Sprecher Brewing pursues NFT strategy, appealing to its fandom of digital natives

– Sprecher Brewing Company working on launching its own NFTs


– Regulators OK Xcel’s plans to phase out coal, invest in renewables


– Viewpoints: Burst of Wisconsin early-stage financing in 2021 has many roots


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