Despite criticisms opponents might have about Healthy Wisconsin, the groundbreaking reform plan proposed by Senate Democrats, I think that we can agree that it would provide everyone in Wisconsin with health insurance. Try as they might, opponents of Healthy Wisconsin have failed to come up with a plan that provides health care to the people of Wisconsin.
Healthy Wisconsin guarantees everyone the ability to choose his or her health care network and doctor and help control the spiraling costs of health insurance for Wisconsin’s small businesses. You need only to talk to Greg Bass of Park Printing House Ltd. In Verona, Deb Carey of New Glarus Brewery or Mike Rayome of Graphic Packaging in Wausau to be reminded of how Healthy Wisconsin is good for business.
Under the plan, approximately 4 million Wisconsinites – those not covered by Medicaid, BadgerCare, Medicare, and other federal programs – will receive the same, quality health insurance coverage that state legislators enjoy. Even the plan’s harshest critics don’t argue that point.
Small businesses in Wisconsin are struggling with continued increases in premiums and all indicators are that the costs will continue to rise. Recent reports indicate the latest increase anywhere from 6 to 10 percent in the last year alone. Something must be done to preserve small businesses that make the wise choice of providing insurance to their employees.
Compared to the $9.2 billion that private insuring employers now spend on employee health care, the amount that Healthy Wisconsin actually requires them to pay – would actually result in $1.4 billion savings.
Health care costs in Wisconsin would decline in the first year by $751 million. Over 10 years, compared with the status quo, total savings would be $13.8 billion.
Wisconsin’s families as a whole would save $432 million. Families with annual incomes under $75,000, which constitute 77 percent of all families in Wisconsin, would see reductions in health spending ranging from $1,328 per family to $262 per family.
After taking into account the large property tax cut that Healthy Wisconsin requires plus voluntary supplemental benefits for active worker and retiree health care costs, the net savings to private insuring employers would be $686 million.
Not surprisingly, private firms that today provide no insurance whatsoever – fully shifting their workers’ health care costs onto those workers or onto other employers – would experience an increase in costs. It’s time that everyone paid their fair share.
Government (i.e., municipalities and counties) employers would save $1.36 billion.
Healthy Wisconsin requires that 50 percent of this savings – a total of $680 million – must be passed on to households and businesses in the form of a property tax cut. This would drive the statewide levy down from over $8 billion to close to $7.5 billion, the second biggest cut in the property tax levy in recent Wisconsin history.
If Healthy Wisconsin isn’t the plan Republicans want to support, I challenge them to come up with a plan that actually provides health insurance to the people of Wisconsin.
You cannot deny that reforming the current health care system is the No. 1 issue in Wisconsin. Try as they might, opponents have not been able to put forth an alternative that even comes close to Healthy Wisconsin.
The Republicans’ lone answer? Health savings accounts and tax breaks, neither of which has been proven to actually reduce the number of uninsured or lower health care costs. In fact, through adverse selection, some economists actually believe that health savings accounts will increase the number of uninsured.
Research by the RAND Corp., the Urban Institute and the American Academy of Actuaries shows that if health savings accounts are more widely used, premiums for traditional comprehensive employer based insurance could more than double.
It would be convenient for Republicans to have Healthy Wisconsin out of the way as the state budget debate rages on. After all, doing nothing is much easier than offering a bold solution. However, their own polling shows that the people of Wisconsin are asking for change.
The truth is that Healthy Wisconsin is the only plan on the table that increases affordability and decreases the number of uninsured. If I were a Republican, I would want the proposal killed as soon as possible as well.
Wisconsin has the building blocks in place for a successful system; the time is now to lead the nation, in Wisconsin’s proud tradition, toward comprehensive reform.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) is the author of the Healthy Wisconsin reform plan in the State Senate. For more on the ongoing debate over Healthy Wisconsin, visit www.biztimes.com.