Federal Medicare shortfalls shackle Wisconsin’s competitiveness

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Federal Medicare shortfalls shackle Wisconsin’s competitiveness

Commentary, by Mark Cullen, for SBT

Because of Medicare formulas set long ago Wisconsin misses out on approximately $1 billion in Medicare, based on national averages. It seems the only groups that should care about this shortfall are the health-care providers.

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But that’s far from the truth. Workers and employers who pay for health insurance and for direct costs of care make up the shortfalls. The costs are shifted to all of us.

Competitive Wisconsin, an organization of labor, business, education and agricultural leaders, facilitated the creation of the Medicare/Medicaid Equity Coalition to bring public attention to costs of the shortfall on our state’s residents and to engage our congressional delegation and other elected leaders in seeking methods to address the issue.

It is unfair that seniors in Louisiana receive Medicare benefits that are almost twice the level received by seniors in Wisconsin and Iowa. Wisconsin is at the bottom of the public payment program charts; inequitable formulas created long ago have created a large and growing payment gap that amounts to a "hidden tax" on Wisconsin employers in the form of higher health insurance premiums.

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What can be done?

Our congressional delegation should be encouraged to actively champion proposals to fix historic Medicare payment equity issues. It isn’t easy, because the delegations from other states will be protecting what they’ve had for so long. But it’s a fight that Wisconsin needs. And we’re pleased to see the emergence of leaders within our delegation who are willing to take on this issue as a top priority.

In addition, since Medicare’s creation, there are special programs that were developed to handle specific and special situations. Our state needs to take better advantage of those programs as a means to access federal dollars that are available but currently have been "left on the table".

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So why does a businessperson like me co-chair this effort?

JP Cullen & Sons is a fourth-generation family-owned business and a recognized leader in construction and renovation of some of Wisconsin’s greatest buildings. We are committed to a strong economic future in Wisconsin.

And once I saw the numbers that demonstrate that Wisconsin’s economy is $1 billion lighter because of a "broken" federal program, I was motivated to lend my voice to "fixing" a problem that affects every resident of the state.

In economic terms, Wisconsin businesses and workers cannot afford the costs of losing out on so much federal money — and in the process paying health insurance premiums that are inflated by this "hidden tax."

We lose competitively to other states if their workers and businesses are not having to ante up to cover a $1 billion shortchange. The state’s health-care providers lose if they have to shift the costs to the rest of us because they’re not being adequately compensated for services to Medicare recipients.

And, of course, it’s not the Medicare recipient’s fault if the federal government doesn’t meet its obligation to pay its fair share.

The coalition is a diverse group of business, labor, health providers and local governments that understand how important addressing the shortfall is to our economic future. If you’d like to add your name to the coalition, please contact Competitive Wisconsin executive director Sharon Cook at 414-227-1237 or scook@cf-law.com.

Mark Cullen, is president of JP Cullen & Sons Inc., Janesville, which has an office in Brookfield. Cullen is co-chairman of the Medicare/Medicaid Equity Coalition and president-elect of Competitive Wisconsin.

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