Business Leaders Call for Politicians to Rise Above Partisan Agendas

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Although most of State Rep. Curt Gielow’s Republican brethren are treating him like a leper over his co-sponsorship of the Wisconsin Health Plan, the Mequon legislator is receiving credit from many southeastern Wisconsin business executives who hunger for any ideas that could possibly slow down the rising costs of health care in the state.

Wayne Corey, executive director of Wisconsin Independent Businesses (WIB), said Gielow and Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) deserve praise for rising out of their political foxholes to find bipartisan solutions for the state’s skyrocketing health care costs.

"It’s an idea that is worth looking at. And I have to give Jon Richards some credit on this, too. Nobody’s done anything bipartisan in Madison for years, and here are these two guys working on something together. The current system is just devastatingly awful. It’s not going to be fixed, and these guys have come up with something that is getting us to talk about it," Corey said. "If we stay in our fox holes on this, the dirt is going to be poured in on top of us. As the babyboomers get older, there’s lots of them. We have to work on this problem, and Curt Gielow and Jon Richards have wracked all of us upside the head. WIB doesn’t oppose it or support it, but we’re darn pleased to be at the table."

Gary Zimmerman, president of Creative Business Interiors Inc. in West Allis and chairman of the Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE) of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce (MMAC), said he is long past tired of double-digit employee health care costs and is eager to hear some new ideas. "I’m for anyone trying anything that is out of the status quo, because the status quo is not working. While I certainly don’t want to see any increase in taxes, I do have to give him (Gielow) credit for saying, ‘It’s not working. It’s going to be different, it’s going to be risky, it’s not going to be popular, but we’ve got to try something different.’ The partisanship has got to end. The decision has to be made because it’s the right decision, not the politically popular decision in their parties. He’s got to move forward with his proposal," Zimmerman said.

Charles Engberg, founding partner and president of Engberg Anderson Design Partnership Inc., a Milwaukee-based architectural company that has been slapped with rising health care costs for years, also said politicians need to put their agendas aside and focus on doing the right thing for the state, its businesses and its people.

"Frankly, I think that anybody who is creative about how to cut costs in health care deserves a hearing without a reprimand. Otherwise, we’ll all be sinking together in the same leaky boat. If there’s a way that health care costs can be reduced for everyone, that’s a good thing, because we are spending far too much of our gross earnings on health care," said Engberg, who also is a member of the COSBE board of directors. "We would be very happy to try some other system. We’ve been switching every two years for the last 10 years, and it’s bothersome. And nothing’s any better, and you give up on it a little bit. The details of this thing have to be carefully worked out, and if Curt’s got some ideas, bravo to him."

Timothy Sheehy, president of the MMAC, welcomes new ideas, but says his membership won’t support any new mandatory tax. "I think all thoughts are welcome and encouraged. It’s clear there isn’t one magic pill that’s going to solve this, but we’re firmly convinced that until and when the consumer has some of their health care dollars at risk and is engaged in the process, the movement toward lower health costs is going to be glacial," Sheehy said. "We have looked at it (the Gielow/Richards concept). We haven’t taken a position on it. I think it’s good to get the discussion going. Maybe a piece of this works. Maybe everyone pays into a catastrophic (insurance) pool. The reality is that it isn’t going to get a warm fuzzy response from the business community, but maybe it will lead toward something that does."

P. Michael Mahoney, president and chief executive officer of Park Bank in Milwaukee and also a member of the COSBE board, agrees with Sheehy. "On the one hand, I admire the attempt to work with the Democrats, but what this state doesn’t need right now is anything that is perceived as an additional tax on the business community. Now, within that, if there are some different ways of doing it, I admire (Gielow’s) working across the political divide. I admire what he’s trying to do," Mahoney said.

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