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WI: Real Health Care for All Workers

After the botched Massachusetts health care bill, it's nice to see Wisconsin is stepping up with a really bold health care plan.

Backed by unions, businesses and municipalities, a bipartisan group of Wisconsin legislators, led by Sen. Russ Decker (D-Schofield) and Rep. Terry Musser (R-Black River Falls), introduced SB 698, one of the most comprehensive health care proposals in the country -- that would cover every employee in the state much like the existing workers compensation and unemployment insurance systems.

An actuarial study done in 2003 estimated that employers would have to pay about $300 per month, while employees and dependents would pay a yearly deductible of $300 for a single person or $600 for a family.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO has this analysis which points out that it's the very ambition of the plan that will make the plan affordable for both employers and employees.  And why "individual mandates" or other so-called "consumer driven" proposals will fail:

[V]oluntary purchasing pools don�t work, because they are inevitably subject to �adverse selection�: only groups with above average costs want to participate. �Consumer-driven� or �market� reforms simply shift costs to individuals and ration access to health care according to wealth: none of these approaches increases access to quality health care, improves our health care system, or reduces overall costs...

And the Wisconsin plan, by standardizing benefits and administration will accomplish what almost no other proposal on the table will do-- dramatically reduces administrative costs. 20 to 30% of the cost of health care in the United States is currently for administration �- often just patients and care givers negotiating with a blizzard of different insurance companies over what will get covered and who will pay. Compare that to administrative costs of just 3% for Medicare and for the single-payer Canadian health care system and you can see the attraction of the new Wisconsin plan's more integrated approach.

The Wisconsin plan will also bargain with pharmaceutical companies to reduce prescription drug prices and establish common quality standards for hospitals and health care providers to control costs.

Now, this is a health care vision that takes the debate beyond incremental reforms. Unlike the Massachusetts bill, it holds employers responsible for providing health care, but also offers the carrot to responsible employers of reduced costs and not being undercut by companies that just dump their health care costs on emergency rooms.

The bill is being introduced too late to be passed this legislative session, but will no doubt help define the election races this fall for the legislature-- and hopefully those candidates who refuse to sign up won't be coming back for January 2007.

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