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Issue of the Week: GOP Health Care Reform Doublespeak

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Feb. 9, 2011
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It’s fascinating to witness Republicans playing both sides of the issue of health care reform. Their games have generated a lot of headlines but very little substance that will actually benefit Wisconsin’s health care providers and consumers.

Throughout the campaign, Gov. Scott Walker blasted the federal law. But even before taking office he sent a letter to President Obama stating that he wanted more flexibility in setting up a state-based health insurance exchange, a key component of the federal bill that needs to be in place by 2014. As recently as Monday, Walker was among a group of conservative governors who sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, repeating his request for flexibility just in case the bill isn’t repealed or struck down.

Walker has also established an Office of Free Market Health Care to both set up an exchange and to “explore all opportunities and alternative approaches that would free Wisconsin from establishing a health benefit exchange, including federal waivers.” Note, too, that the bipartisan Legislative Council Committee on Health Care Reform Implementation, now chaired by state Sen. Alberta Darling and state Rep. Pat Strachota, both Republicans, has stalled. The chairs canceled the Jan. 10 meeting and no new meeting has been scheduled.

Witness, too, the testimony of Dennis Smith, Walker’s secretary of the state Department of Health Services, before a committee chaired by Congressman Paul Ryan. While Smith testified that the federal reform would cost the state $433 million, he also noted that the federal government would offset the cost of BadgerCare programs. In total, Wisconsin would save an estimated $500 million over five years, thanks to the federal reform.

Even state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen was forced to walk back his statement that health care reform is “dead” in Wisconsin, following a federal judge’s ruling that the bill is unconstitutional.
State Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) blasted Van Hollen’s reading of the ruling, saying that the judge did not issue an injunction in his order.

“To say that the entire state government of Wisconsin is beholden to an activist judge in Pensacola, Florida, is absurd,” Richards said.

Van Hollen later explained that he has not advised Walker to halt implementation of the federal bill.

Of course, killing off the federal law would mean that some provisions in the bill that are already in place—enhanced consumer protections, tax breaks for businesses and money sent to seniors in Medicare Part D’s donut hole—would have to be rescinded.
Richards scoffed at the Republicans’ opposition to the federal reforms and stressed the importance of benefits that are already positively impacting consumers, regardless of the Florida judge’s decision.

“Wisconsin citizens will continue to get health insurance even if they have a pre-existing condition,” Richards said. “They’ll continue to get the benefit of health insurance when they need it the most and not be subject to a lifetime limit of coverage. Children will continue to get health insurance and seniors will be able to get lower-cost prescription drugs. We will continue to do that in Wisconsin.”

Heroes of the Week

Southeastern Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Association Volunteers

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Anyone who has had an afflicted friend or family member knows the terrible effects of this debilitating illness.
Locally, the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association (620 S. 76th St.) serves an 11-county region and an estimated 50,000 people affected by the disease. Volunteers play a vital role in enhancing care and support for patients and their families by answering the help line, raising awareness in the community, lending a hand in the chapter office and helping with special events such as the Mardi Gras Gala fund-raiser (March 8) and the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s (Oct. 1).
Readers who wish to aid the association’s mission to advance research and provide support for patients are urged to call 414-479-8800 or visit www.alz.org/sewi.


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