Healing Wisconsin's Sick Health System

By: Allison Miller
By: Allison Miller

Getting her blood pressure checked, 55-year-old Marian Green laments the cost of health care.

"It's a choice. Do I pay for my meds or do I pay my electricity?" says Green.

Green's been making that choice since she left a job with insurance for one without about 2 years ago.

That was also around the time she was diagnosed with diabetes.

"If I was 65 I could get Medicaid, but that's several years down the road," she says. "I don't want to lose my eyesight because I can't get Medicaid."

Keeping sight of campaign promises lawmakers in Madison are eyeing up three different reform options: the Wisconsin Health Plan, the Wisconsin Health Care Partnership and the Wisconsin Health Security Act.

Under the first plan employers pay 3% to 12% of wages and employees two % into one big purchasing pool.

Workers, using health savings accounts would then choose one of three plans offered by insurance companies.

"You'd have a uniform set of benefits available to everyone and plans that are able to provide those benefits at the lowest cost would then be considered tier one," explains Jennifer Johs-Artisensi, a health care administration professor at UW-Eau Claire.

She says tier two and tier three would be the pricey, less-popular options and that all three would create competition among insurers driving down costs.

But, Artisensi ads the plan doesn't help the uninsured.

"It might have the side benefit of providing more access to more people but it seems the driving force behind that plan is really reigning in premium costs for people who are purchasing insurance."

The second plan, Wisconsin Health Care Partnership, focuses on employers as buyers of health care. Each business would pay a flat fee--around 300 per worker--to fund one big plan selected by a state commission and open to everyone.

"It would establish a minimum standard of coverage for all employees and then employers would have the option of offering additional covered services," says Artisensi.

But the problem here, explains Artisensi, is people who buy the plan without an employer are more likely to be older or sicker than the working population, meaning while their rates would be affordable they may not be high enough to fund the plan.

The last proposal, the Wisconsin Health Security Act, would enroll all Wisconsinites in a government-run program financed by payroll taxes, ending employer-based coverage.

This plan, says Artisensi is the most comprehensive, but also the least likely.

"The Security Act proposal wouldn't fully put the government in charge but I think that's definitely a perception problem," she says.

Perceptions aside, Marian Green says she doesn't care what people think she just wants something that will work.

She hopes lawmakers in Madison keep people like her in mind.

"We really need a real practical health reform," she says.

Committee meetings on which reform would work best have already begun.

Democratic Senator Kathleen Vinehout says the final plan will likely be a mix of the three we just told you about.

But Republican Representative Terry Moulton says he's wary of any sweeping changes.

Governor Doyle meanwhile hasn't endorsed any of the proposed plans and is instead pushing for an expansion of BadgerCare.

All issues the folks in Madison will have to work out if they want to remedy Wisconsin's ailing health system.


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