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Healthy Wisconsin represents bold, fair approach to care

By ADAM THOMPSON
Published in the Superior Daily Telegram
Saturday, February 09, 2008

Wisconsin has a storied history of firsts when it comes to enacting sorely needed reform. From women’s suffrage and equal rights, to worker’s compensation benefits, to conservation of natural resources, Wisconsin has always been at the cutting edge of struggles for reform on issues of historic national importance. Now, as legislatures across the nation are grappling with the fast-growing crisis of unaffordable health care, Wisconsin has another chance to build on its rich tradition of national leadership.

Last June, the state Senate passed Healthy Wisconsin, which would have made Wisconsin the first state to guarantee quality and affordable health care for all of its residents. The bill was blocked in the conservative-led Assembly. Now, state legislatures across the country are looking to the Wisconsin plan as a model for their own bills. This February, Healthy Wisconsin will be reintroduced in revised form. Wisconsin should seize the opportunity to pick up where it left off last summer and lead the charge of states across the nation trying to bring quality affordable health care to all of their residents.

As leaders in California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and elsewhere debate the best way to improve health care, Healthy Wisconsin is increasingly looked to as a model of sound legislation that ensures every individual and family the health care they need when they need it. With so many attempts at health care reform being churned out of statehouses across the country, why is Healthy Wisconsin emerging as the favorite target for emulation?

For starters, it is a bolder and fairer approach to health care reform than recent efforts in states like Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine. While all of the latter received significant media attention when they were enacted, none of them make a guarantee of affordable health care for all residents, which Healthy Wisconsin does. Healthy Wisconsin provides for choice, peace of mind, and creates a just system of shared responsibility.
Healthy Wisconsin is built on the premises that everyone should have access to the doctors of their choice and that residents, government, and businesses should all, to the best of their ability, contribute to make health care work. The plan offers comprehensive benefits, modeled after the state employees’ and legislators’ health plans and eliminates premiums for individuals and businesses.

One of the strongest features of Healthy Wisconsin is its funding mechanism. By utilizing payroll deductions in place of premiums, the costs are predictable and will directly reflect a family’s resources and ability to pay. Through this approach, Healthy Wisconsin limits a family’s exposure to unaffordable and unpredictable health insurance premiums.

While providing all families with affordable choice, Healthy Wisconsin also levels the playing field among businesses by ensuring all contribute to make health care work in the state. No longer would huge businesses like Wal-Mart be able to rely on government programs to pay for their employees’ health care or gain a competitive advantage on the backs of the taxpayers.

Polls show that two-thirds of voters support health care for all Americans even if it means higher taxes. Healthy Wisconsin would move the nation toward this goal while actually reducing costs for families by an average of $750 and by 15 percent for businesses that currently provide health care to employees. Healthy Wisconsin would substitute an affordable payroll deduction for current health insurance premiums and the payroll deduction would be less than Wisconsinites are paying for premiums today. Over 10 years, Wisconsin would save almost $14 billion in health care costs while providing each family with control and peace of mind. If health care premiums are a tax, then Healthy Wisconsin is a tax cut for thousands of Wisconsin families and small businesses.

While it will take a nation working together to provide truly comprehensive health care reform for all Americans, it only takes one state acting courageously to get the ball rolling toward that goal. In the coming months, the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate should rise to the occasion and once more put Wisconsin back at the cutting edge of national reform.

Adam Thompson is a senior health care policy specialist with Progressive States Network, a national group that works to coordinate legislative action on affordable health care and other issues affecting the middle class in states across the nation.