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Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011

Issue of the Week: GOP Isn't Reducing the High Cost of Health Care

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If Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature truly wanted to help Wisconsin's struggling families, they would reduce the high cost of health care. Instead, unfortunately, they're doing all they can to ensure that insurance costs skyrocket in the future.

Part of their plan is to slash BadgerCare and other Medicaid programs so that low-income workers are forced to purchase insurance from for-profit companies. Of course, this will do nothing to lower those workers' premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. But it will help to fatten the bottom lines of insurers, who are already charging too much for plans that don't cover much when you actually need insurance. That's why Wisconsinites turn to BadgerCare in the first place.

Last week, Walker's insurance commissioner, Ted Nickel, requested permission from the federal government to allow Wisconsin's private insurers to continue to reap unfair profits. Instead of complying with the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—which requires insurance companies to spend between 80% and 85% of their income from premiums on medical treatments, not on administration or profits—Nickel wants a waiver so that insurance companies can spend as little as 71% on medical costs before the ACA is fully phased in. That would allow insurance companies to continue to unfairly shortchange its policyholders while hoarding profits for itself.

The Walker administration has also shown hostility to federal health care reform by allowing state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to fight its constitutionality in court and appointing department heads who oppose it. The administration has hidden the benefits of federal health care reform for Wisconsinites, most notably by manipulating the conclusions of an independent study and then hamstringing journalists who wanted to report on the study's release.

Wonder why? It could be because Wisconsinites will be better off if health care reform is fully implemented in the state. According to a new study commissioned by Families USA and co-released by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, by 2019 Wisconsin consumers will save on average $2,040 a year, thanks to reduced premiums and cost-sharing. The best part is that these savings really help working people. The study found that those making less than $30,000 will save $3,405; those earning between $30,000 and $50,000 will save $1,493; and those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 will save $996.

That, of course, is not what the free-market, for-profit insurance industry—and its enablers in the Walker administration—want you to know.

So if Walker really wanted to help working families, he'd push to fully implement the Affordable Care Act and fully fund BadgerCare.

Governor, are you listening?

Heroes of the Week
: Voter ID Transportation Volunteers

In May, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill requiring Wisconsin voters to present photo identification at the polls. Critics noted that the bill is one of the most restrictive in the nation and would likely deter people from voting, particularly students, the elderly and the poor. State-issued voter IDs are required to be free, but an official Department of Transportation (DOT) memo instructed DOT workers not to tell applicants that the IDs were available at no cost. A state mailroom employee was subsequently fired for urging fellow employees to inform the public that the cards could be obtained free of charge.

For now, the law stands. So parishioners and staff from three local churches are offering a “Voter Outreach” program to help voters obtain the newly required IDs. Vans will be provided at St. Mark A.M.E. Church (1616 W. Atkinson Ave.), New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church (2315 N. 38th St.) and Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church (1345 W. Burleigh St.) at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8, to transport people to the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain the new IDs. Information will also be provided on how to obtain photo IDs and birth certificates, as well as the location of polling places. On-site registration will be available at the St. Mark A.M.E. Church Quality of Life Center (1641 W. Atkinson Ave.).