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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Issue of the Week: Pushing for Health Care Reform

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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Here’s a reminder for the folks who don’t think health care reform is necessary: An estimated 2,400 Wisconsin residents will die prematurely this decade if health care reform is not enacted, and 3,500 Wisconsin residents have died from a lack of health coverage since 1995, the last time Congress attempted to enact comprehensive reform. That startling statistic comes from the nonprofit think tank Families USA, which found that 294,000 American adults died prematurely since 1995 due to lack of health coverage.

“It is shocking and sad that so many Wisconsin residents have already died needlessly for the profits of the health insurance industry and other special interests,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

It’s easy to get caught up in the political twists and turns of the legislative process. But it’s imperative that workers, voters, business owners and elected officials keep their eyes on the goal: enacting health care reform that improves access for those who don’t have adequate insurance, and reducing costs for those who purchase insurance—governments, employers, workers and individuals—as well as health care providers.

We believe that the best way to achieve this is by adding a nonprofit public option for consumers. Both Sen. Herb Kohl and Sen. Russ Feingold have stated that they’d support a public option if it “creates a level playing field” (Kohl) or reduces the deficit (Feingold). The public option isn’t the only mechanism that can be used, of course, but any reform package must lower costs and improve access, period.

The time to act is now. But Congress won’t act unless it understands that voters want true reform—that voters need true reform. Contact your member of Congress. Seize the moment before it slips away for another 15 years and thousands more die prematurely from lack of access to health care.

Heroes of the Week

Students at Riverside University High School

Higher education often comes with a daunting price tag. Students can save money in college by obtaining college credits while still in high school through Advanced Placement (AP) classes. College-bound students enrolled in these challenging Advanced Placement courses must pay $60 for each year-end exam. Bonnie Brusky, who teaches AP English composition at Riverside University High School, has drawn inspiration from her students, who have banded together to raise money through bake sales to cover the exam fees for classmates who lack the funds to register for these all-important tests.

For taking the initiative in helping themselves and their fellow classmates on the path to higher learning, the Shepherd makes the students at Riverside University High School our “Heroes of the Week.”

Jerk of the Week

Gov. Jim Doyle

Even before last week’s announcement that Wisconsin would not receive federal “Race to the Top” money in its first round of funding, Gov. Jim Doyle lashed out at Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) for the state’s relatively weak application for those funds. More than once, Doyle has erroneously claimed that MPS governance must change for the state to receive a lump sum from the feds. So it was no surprise that Doyle again disparaged Milwaukee last week instead of looking at the facts.

And these are the facts: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan specifically stated that governance change was not necessary for the funds. Of the 16 finalists, only four have mayor-led districts. It’s been known for months that Wisconsin was not a top contender for first-round funding, with or without changing MPS governance. And the state’s application didn’t include any major statewide reform efforts that Duncan was interested in funding.

But instead of looking at the facts, Doyle once again demonized Milwaukee and MPS for not going along with his fanatical quest to change the governance of the public schools. Milwaukee voters and legislators should not be intimidated by the lame-duck governor’s scare tactics.

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