Business voice is needed in health care debate

    The health care reform movement is moving forward – with or without input and ideas from Wisconsin’s business community.

    One only need look to the Left Coast, where the California State Senate and Assembly approved a new reform plan this week after months of negotiations between that state’s business, consumer and labor groups.

    The California bill would expand coverage to more of the state’s 6.7 million uninsured by broadening government safety nets and requiring employers to pay 7.5 percent of their of payroll for workers’ health care.

    Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he will not sign the bill into law and instead will call the California State Legislature back into a special session to modify the plan.  Schwarzenegger has proposed a 4-percent employer mandate and a requirement that individuals purchase health insurance. He also wants to impose fees on California’s doctors and hospitals. Last week, the California Hospital Association agreed to such a fee.

    But health care reform is going to happen in the Golden State.

    Here in the Badger State, the Healthy Wisconsin reform plan, which would create a universal care system in the state, is gaining momentum with 34 statewide organizations jumping on board to form a "Big Tent" of support for the cause. The coalition includes some big hitters, including AARP Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, several labor unions, some religious groups and some health care advocacy agencies.

    However, the business community is strangely quiet in the Wisconsin health care reform debate.
    Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (the WMC) has become an irrelevant one-trick pony, spending most of its dollars and resources merely to elect Republican candidates. I mean, someone please tell me how spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect an attorney general who might be “tough on crime” should be a major priority for Wisconsin’s largest business group? For most company owners I know, there are dozens of higher priorities on their political agendas.

    But I digress.

    The Wisconsin business community is coming forward with no cohesive alternatives to reform a health care system that is broken and is unsustainable for people, businesses or the government.

    Individually, many business executives I know are folding their arms in protest and saying they hate Healthy Wisconsin. They say they’re against “government-run” health care. Their concerns are understandable and have some historical context.

    At the same time, those businesses are watching their taxes being used to pay for the health care for workers of companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is the largest employer of people in the Badger Care program for working people who do not have insurance. In other words, Wisconsin’s companies are subsidizing health care for the employees of the world’s largest retailer. Is that fair?

    Again, I digress.

    Unfortunately, the Wisconsin business community is not united with any alternative ideas in the health care reform debate. It’s past time for individual business executives to implore their local, regional and statewide business advocacy groups to do their jobs. Unite, throw some ideas out there, package the best ideas in a bullet-point list, give their plan a catchy name, invest in some independent market research and then market it to the public and the media.

    That’s what the Healthy Wisconsin folks are doing so effectively.

    Businesses must have a voice – and a significant one, at that – in the health care reform discussion.

    As my friend, Arvid “Dick” Tilmar, a partner at Diversified Insurance Services Inc. in Waukesha, so profoundly said this week, businesses need to step up and become part of the solution, rather than just stand in the corner and pout about what others want to do to fix an abysmal health care system.

    “You know, if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu,” Tillmar said.

    And it just might be carryout.

    Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.


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