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Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

Republican Hypocrisy on Health Care

GOP candidates bash health care reform on the stump but take advantage of it in private

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Republicans are making health care reform a huge issue in the Nov. 2 election, with candidates vowing to block national reform from being implemented in Wisconsin because the free market allegedly is superior to government-aided health care.

Yet these same Republican candidates—Ron Johnson, for U.S. Senate; Scott Walker, for governor; and Rebecca Kleefisch, for lieutenant governor—have used state-sponsored health care when it works to their advantage.

They just don’t want you to know about it.

Johnson’s PACUR Employees on BadgerCare

Senate candidate Ron Johnson has claimed that he decided to run for office to repeal the recently passed health care reform bill, which he calls “the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime.”

Johnson wants to replace it with a free-market approach, but he offers few specifics about what that would entail. In addition, Johnson often claims that he’s never gotten government assistance for his plastics manufacturing business, PACUR.

Yet the state Department of Health Services confirmed that as of Sept. 30, five PACUR employees, with 10 children, were on the state’s BadgerCare program for low-income workers. BadgerCare currently serves almost 800,000 Wisconsinites. The BadgerCare Core Plus program, for single childless adults, is so in-demand that it has a waiting list of 75,000 state residents.

To be eligible for BadgerCare, a family of four must have less than $44,100 annual income; a single person is eligible if he or she earns less than $21,660 per year.

A PACUR human resources employee wouldn’t comment on the company’s health insurance policy, and the Johnson campaign wouldn’t respond to the Shepherd’s multiple requests for comment.

Not much is known about the privately owned PACUR, which was started by Johnson’s father-in-law, Howard Curler, then the CEO of Bemis Co. Estimates of the numbers of its employees have ranged from a low of 72 to a high of 120.

But what is public knowledge is that PACUR has gotten government assistance through the years. It has participated in a work-release program with the state Department of Corrections since 1998. Health care for those employees is paid by the state. PACUR has also benefited from low-interest government-backed loans and a state-subsidized rail spur that leads to PACUR’s door.

Yet Johnson refuses to acknowledge that the government has aided his company in any way.

Walker: Repeal the Health Care Bill That’s Helping Milwaukee County (And Local Corporations)

Like Johnson, gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker has vowed to repeal the federal health care reform bill, calling it a “job killer.”

Yet according to Steve Kreklow, the county’s fiscal and budget administrator, Walker’s administration has applied for a little-known provision in the bill, the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program. The program, which began in June, allows businesses, unions and units of government to be reimbursed for medical claims for early retirees and their spouses, ages 55 to 64. These retirees—who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare—are among the most expensive to insure.

However, the anticipated revenue for Milwaukee County coming from the recently passed federal health care reform legislation doesn’t even show up in Walker’s proposed 2011 budget. Nor has Walker mentioned the federal funds on the campaign trail.

Milwaukee County is among 90 entities in Wisconsin that have applied for this benefit, a list that includes Journal Communications, Johnson Controls, Harley-Davidson, Manpower, Kimberly Clark, Marshall & Ilsley, Rockwell Automation, Northwestern Mutual Life and We Energies.

At least seven corporations that have applied for the benefit are represented on the board of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), which strongly opposed the federal health care overhaul.

Walker’s campaign did not respond to the Shepherd’s request for comment on the health care funds.

But Walker did respond to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s candidate questionnaire, where he stated once again that he’d allow the state attorney general to opt out of the federal reforms.

He neglected to mention that the early retiree provisions in the bill will help Milwaukee County and private corporations hold down their health care costs.

Walker also failed to note that if the state does opt out of the federal reform, Milwaukee County—and companies like Journal Communications and We Energies—would likely have to refund any money it receives back to the federal government.

Rich Abelson, head of AFSCME District Council 48, which is involved in a stalemate with the Walker administration over what Abelson calls Walker’s illegal 2010 budget and worker concessions, also criticized Walker’s under-the-radar use of federal health care reform funds. While the anticipated funds could plug the hole in Walker’s budget, Walker is using the county’s ongoing fiscal crisis to unilaterally enact $24.5 million in employee and retiree wage and benefits concessions in 2011 alone.

“It affects negotiations, it affects the county budget,” Abelson said of the federal funds.

Kleefisch: Health Care for Me, But Not for You

Walker appears in a new TV ad with his running mate, Rebecca Kleefisch, warning about the dangers of a “government takeover of health care.”

Yet Kleefisch and Walker don’t mention that they both benefit from state-subsidized private insurance for public employees. Kleefisch’s husband is a state representative who can choose from a number of private insurance plans that are regulated and subsidized by the state.

The Kleefisch family pays $85 a month for its coverage, while taxpayers subsidize $1,722 per month for that care. The candidate was recently successfully treated for a tumor on that plan.

Kleefisch, who is self-employed, apparently prefers the government-sponsored health care options to the ones that her small business could find on the free market.

The state employee plan, with its mix of private insurance plans, will likely be a model for the insurance exchanges that will be set up under the federal health care bill. This is not a “government takeover” of health care.

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, called on Walker and Kleefisch to give up their publicly funded health care.

“It is both inconsistent and unethical for Walker and Kleefisch to exempt themselves from their own policy positions on health care,” Kraig said in a statement.

Kleefisch and Walker also fail to mention that they plan to cut BadgerCare to balance the state’s budget, even though companies like Ron Johnson’s PACUR are benefiting from the program.

Phil Walzak, spokesman for Tom Barrett’s campaign, blasted Walker’s health care agenda.

“Whether it’s making up lies about Tom Barrett’s health care record or trashing the health care bill but applying for money from it or attacking health care reform even though both Walker and his running mate get government-provided, taxpayer-subsidized health care, the list of hypocrisies and contradictions goes on and on,” Walzak said. “At the end of the day it just proves that Scott Walker will do or try anything to get elected.”

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