27 Sep Wisconsin watches as California moves toward healthcare reform
Madison, Wis. – Cows, stem cell research, and healthcare reform. Surprisingly, there is a common thread with this bizarre combination.
Wisconsin was once considered the top dairy producing state in the country, the birthplace of life-saving stem cell research, and at the forefront when it came to important reforms on healthcare.
Now we’re fighting to defend those distinctions.
Under a Republican governor’s administration, the state of California has recognized the economic benefits and invested in stem cell research and now is on the verge of taking the reins on healthcare reform.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats in California’s legislature started active negotiations this week on comprehensive healthcare reform that includes a payroll assessment on employers and even proposed taxes on doctors and hospitals in an effort to address what indisputably has become the number issue facing states – the cost of and access to healthcare.
That’s red meat for some big shot industry lobbyists, right? Wrong.
California’s Medical Association is part of the talks at the table. The airwaves are absent misleading ads from the insurance industry. Even the president of California’s Chamber of Commerce pointed out this week that business groups aren’t saying they don’t want anything because he doesn’t, “think that’s an appropriate response even for people who may be in the crosshairs of this.”
What a difference that ocean breeze must make.
Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate this summer offered long overdue leadership on the issue of greatest concern to Wisconsin’s working families and businesses by passing “Healthy Wisconsin: Your Choice, Your Plan.”
Soon we saw just how far deep-pocketed, special interest defenders of the status quo are willing to go.
Threatened by the prospect of changing a system that’s working well for only them, these interest groups and their Republican sympathizers did everything they could to demonize the first real healthcare reforms to pass in our state.
Here’s the irony: Republicans fought tooth and nail to prevent everyone from having healthcare as good as they benefit from as members of the Legislature.
Instead of offering substantive alternatives or even expressing a willingness to adopt certain elements of “Healthy Wisconsin” and build consensus on bipartisan reform, Republicans dragged out decades’ old scare tactics to confuse and divert attention away from an issue that’s at a critical breaking point for so many.
Their tired talking points ignored the exponential increase of healthcare costs and the burden that’s been placed on our businesses. Healthcare costs have become a job killer.
The business case for reform
Wisconsin employers are already paying an average of over $9,500 per employee, per year on health insurance premiums. Recent projections suggest another nine to 12 percent increase in premiums again this year.
Businessmen like Mike Rayome of Graphics Packaging International in Wausau and Menasha, Greg Bass of Park Printing in Verona, and Richard Bauer of Ellington Mutual Insurance in Hortonville know healthcare is hampering the ability of their businesses to be competitive. They enthusiastically endorsed “Healthy Wisconsin.”
Rayome said the plan would save his business $3 million annually. Bass estimated his monthly premiums to cover his 60 employees would be reduced from $30,000 to $15,000.
It’s no surprise that those who benefit from the current arrangement are fighting change. The status quo has created a few big winners but Wisconsin’s working families, farmers, and businesses aren’t among them.
They’ll continue to be hamstrung financially and in some cases forced to the brink of bankruptcy until legislators and those who spend big bucks to influence them get real about reform.
Solutions vs. status quo
A report from the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign showed $2 of every $3 dollars donated to Assembly Republicans in recent years came from interests opposed to “Healthy Wisconsin.”
Instead of running around raising campaign money, tapping into special interests’ fear of reform, Republicans in this state should take a cue from their colleagues in California. They should become part of the solution.
Until Republicans stop playing politics, employers will continue to be saddled with soaring premiums.
It’s time Wisconsin special interest groups and defenders of the status quo put their scare tactics on healthcare reform out to pasture.
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