Republicans should quit obstructing health care reform

By Joe Leean 

Comprehensive health care reform. Do our citizens really want change? And if so, will our elected officials exhibit the statesmanship to bring it about?

Legislators at both the state and federal levels are facing this issue.

In Wisconsin, the Democratic-controlled Senate recently included a very comprehensive health care insurance proposal in their version of the state budget. The Republican-controlled Assembly has stated there is no way this package will pass their House.

I chaired a committee that spent the past two years discussing and developing a health care reform plan for Wisconsin. This committee included representatives of large and small business organizations, labor, farmers, senior citizens, the insurance industry and the legislature. The Senate Budget Amendment called “Healthy Wisconsin: Your Choice, Your Plan” draws on the work of this committee and its staff for much of the plan.

The proposal in the Senate version of the budget is an excellent start. 

I wish my Republican colleagues would stop trashing the plan and work with the Senate to improve it, adding provisions to increase consumer incentives to make wise decisions about health care and their own lifestyle as it affects health. This would help to further control future increases in health care spending.

Here are the positives of the Healthy Wisconsin Plan:

  1. Everyone is covered – that is why it is called universal.
  2. The existing provider networks are maintained – that is why it is different than the Canadian or European models.
  3. Every family may choose their own provider network – the same as state and many local government employees.
  4. Your insurance stays with you regardless of whether you change jobs or lose your job.
  5. The plan is governed by a board of trustees who will contract with the private sector for both administration and health care delivery – this is not a government health care program.
  6. The funding for the plan is collected from assessments on income and payroll – this makes it fair, administratively simple and verifiable.
  7. The plan provides affordable, comprehensive health care for every individual and family in Wisconsin not already covered by Medicare, Medicaid/BadgerCare, or in a state institution.
  8. This plan will reduce state and local government costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. These savings could and should be used for tax reductions at both the state and local level.

Here are my responses to criticisms of the Healthy Wisconsin Plan:

  • “It is the largest tax increase in state history.” Because the funding for the plan is assessed on payroll, it is collected as a tax. But the naysayers are neglecting to point out that the approximate $15 billion collected for this plan eliminates more than $15 billion currently paid by businesses and consumers in insurance premiums.
  • “Families will have to change doctors.” Not true. Families will have choices of health care provider networks just like legislators and other government and school employees.
  • “This is a government-run program.” Not true. This plan is governed by a board of trustees made up of representatives of large and small businesses, labor, education and agriculture with an advisory group from the health care provider community.
  • “This plan is a last minute idea with no public scrutiny or input.” Not true. Several groups including the committee I chaired have been working on this for over two years. Labor unions, business groups, health care providers, farmer organizations, senior citizen advocates, legislators, and the insurance industry have been part of these discussions. Furthermore, scores of forums, debates and news articles have covered this over the past year.
  • “This plan does nothing to control the cost of health care.” Not true. The plan includes co-pays and deductibles to discourage inappropriate use of health care. It also provides preventive care with no co-pays and addresses chronic disease management. As I stated earlier, I wish Republicans would work with Democrats to include co-insurance and funded Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) as my committee proposed in our health plan.
  • “This plan destroys the practices of health care professionals and their relationship with patients.” Not true. Health care professionals will probably not even notice a change except that everyone will now have insurance.
  • “This will destroy Wisconsin’s economy and drive away employers and jobs.” Not true. Most businesses currently providing insurance will see an overall reduction in their health care costs.  Businesses not currently providing insurance will incur increased costs but now both the owners and their employees will have affordable health care.

I hope our legislators and governor exhibit statesmanship on this important issue – but that depends on whether our citizens are really ready to tell their elected officials to provide quality and affordable health care for everyone.
 

Joe Leean is a former businessman and served as a Republican State Senator from Waupaca from 1984-1995. He also served in Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s administration as Secretary of the Department of Health and Family Services from 1995-2001. Additional information about the Healthy Wisconsin plan is available at www.healthywisconsin.net.

This article originally published on Small Business Times Blog 

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