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Senate confirms Dennis Smith as Health Services secretary despite concerns

Dennis Smith

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Dennis Smith, Gov. Scott Walker’s nominee to lead the Department of Health Services.

Several senators, though, expressed concern that Smith had not made himself available to the Senate to respond to questions.

“I’m deeply troubled Mr. Smith has not appeared to take his time to reach out and get to know members as well as he should to better understand what pertinent issues are,” Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, said.

Jauch, though, added “the fact that he has not reached out is not a sufficient enough reason to vote against him today.”

Other Democratic senators did vote against Smith’s confirmation, though, complaining he has not answered questions about his positions on state health programs SeniorCare, BadgerCare or BadgerCare Plus. Some worried Smith might favor weakening or abolishing them.

“I probably could vote for (Smith) if I knew there isn’t going to be damage to SeniorCare, or some of the other programs,” Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said. “I just don’t have a good feeling in my gut about this one for senior citizens.”

But Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said Smith satisfied those concerns during committee hearings.

“As it relates to SeniorCare, the answer that was given by Mr. Smith is that he’s a supporter,” she said. “He said, as it relates to low-income families, Medicare Part D is a much better program. That is what he said.”

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, who voted for Smith, said the issue isn’t Smith’s positions, but rather Walker’s. Erpenbach said he would write a letter to Walker imploring the governor to protect the state’s health programs.

“I think every single senior citizen in Wisconsin really admires SeniorCare. They take advantage of it because they deserve to,” Erpenbach said. “I would rather hear from Gov. Walker than Mr. Smith. We need an answer from Gov. Walker as soon as possible so the senior citizens of Wisconsin can rest easy at night.”

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