Fix Health Care, Grow Jobs

Joe runs a business making dentures. He hires highly skilled workers and pays them well. He also buys a good health insurance plan that costs him $3,000 a month per employee. If he could lower health insurance costs, he could hire more people.

Sam and his partner Bob run a small business in a tourist area. Their shop is doing well, but health insurance costs are eating up more and more of their profit.

Sally ran a café. She and her daughter needed health insurance but couldn’t find an affordable plan. The business was sold. Sally now works for a large company but still dreams of running her own business. The major barrier is the high cost of health insurance.

The names are changed, but these are real Wisconsin business stories.

Again and again I hear: one thing Wisconsin could do to help small business is lower health insurance costs.

Last fall I introduced a bill to do just that. The proposed law would give small business, farmers and people who buy insurance on their own the same bulk-buying power of large companies. The bill used the federal Affordable Health Care Act, or as I like to call it “Obama Cares” as a way to create a uniquely Wisconsin competitive insurance market.

Big business leaders like to say, “Wisconsin already has a competitive insurance market”. But any small business person – including myself buying insurance for our dairy farm – will tell you, “We pay way too much for just awful coverage”.

It’s true there are a lot of companies competing for your insurance dollars. This is why Wisconsin needs a special approach to complying with new federal law.

The recent Supreme Court decision to uphold “Obama Cares” gives Wisconsin an opportunity; one that should not be squandered. Delaying the implementation of the law until the state is forced to act is a big mistake.

Every day we wait, people are paying too much for bad coverage. Every day we wait someone without insurance gets sick and we all pay for that care. Often that care is provided in the most expensive setting: the emergency room or intensive care.

Most important: every night we wait, a parent without insurance lies awake worried their son or daughter will be sick and they will have to make a decision between selling the farm and caring for their loved one. I know. I’ve been there.

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. Many of us would like to have something different. But is it a start. And start we must.

But instead of proposing changes to the law to improve it; instead of meeting with the other side of the aisle and compromising, conservative leaders are pouring big money into Wisconsin to change people’s minds and, hopefully, their votes.

Recently Americans for Prosperity (AFP) began running $600,000 worth of ads in Wisconsin criticizing the President for the Affordable Care Act. According to WisPolitics, the ads will run in every major market in Wisconsin and are part of a nine million dollar ad buy in 12 swing states.

In 2004, AFP began with money from David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch, both of Koch Industries. The oil industry giant continues to support conservative causes and influence elections. According to the on-line encyclopedia “Wikipedia”, AFP claims it spent more than $40 million in 2010 elections. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act is one of its goals.

But the interest of the oil industry is not always in the best interest of Wisconsinites.

Low cost, high quality health insurance is a goal we can all agree to pursue. Without it Wisconsinites continue to needlessly suffer; farmers and small businesses continue to pay too much. This makes it harder to add employees or to start a new business.

Governor Walker must avoid falling into a political trap. He must not ignore his own Republican Attorney General who told him he must follow the health care law. He can take real action to show that we can work together and find a solution that works for Wisconsin.

It’s time to put politics aside and get to work.