People from Danbury to Neillsville, Black River Falls and Sparta drove to Eau Claire to testify before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last Thursday evening. The members of the committee and local legislators heard more than five and a half hours of testimony from people representing many communities and walks of life.
Authors of the health care plans presented their ideas. The public was then invited to testify on the merits of the plans and their own experiences. Seventy two people registered to testify with another thirty people registering in favor or opposed to the plans but not testifying. More than 150 attended the hearing.
I was struck with the diversity of those attending. Farmers, teachers, veterans, nurses, electricians, artists, bankers, truck drivers, doctors, insurance agents, parents, factory workers, retired people, and people who had lost their jobs came to share opinions and stories. Perhaps because Eau Claire is so far from Madison, almost no one from the ‘lobbying groups” spoke at the hearing. But many, many people from varied lives offered stories and opinions. So many personal stories of pain and suffering were told.
A tough woman carpenter told a story of losing part of her finger and shopping around to find a good deal on someone who could fix the finger. She complained that no one could tell her the price of repair. The hospital charged her $5,400 while a fellow carpenter with a similar accident paid only $900. Neither carpenter had insurance. “Imagine if I didn’t tell someone a price? Or charged one person more for the same work?” she exclaimed.
Not nearly as many health care representatives testified as at the Green Bay hearing and there was a marked difference of opinion among the medical professionals. Several who were in private practice or small groups testified in favor of all three comprehensive plans and urged the committee to solve the problem and soon. One small office said 35 percent of all costs were related to paperwork. Another physician offered a reform plan of his own.
One hospital executive offered several innovative suggestions and encouraged the committee to work together with providers on defining quality care. Another representative of a large system opposed all three comprehensive plans calling them choosing “the lesser of these evils” and chastised the committee for not including health executives in the development of the plans. I was discouraged by this testimony as the reason we were there was to seek public input – including from providers – as we move through the legislative process. If people have ideas, now is the time to contact us – before we design the final legislation.
We heard from the Eau Claire City Council, the Eau Claire County Board and several school districts with the same message – health care costs are hurting our ability to serve
the people. Several teachers and other union employees told stories about actually losing wages because of rising health care premiums.
Sadly, none of the Eau Claire business leaders attended the hearing, but rural businesses were well represented. Many business owners told stories of rising costs and their inability to cover employees. One Buffalo City business owner has seen his health care costs increase 25 to 30 percent a year. Several had dropped insurance for employees and themselves only to have serious consequences in their own families.
A rural community banker traveled many miles to testify. His testimony summarized the hearing well for me. He was concerned as he has watched bank profits dwindle because of uncontrolled health care costs. He explained the sad state of the economy in the rural areas, “farmers and small business are the backbone of our economy. Governor Doyle’s plan is a Band-Aid. Badgercare is not working because of cost shifting. We need solid reform. Please Get ‘R Done!”
If you have ideas or concerns, please call us. In Black River Falls at (715) 284-1730; In Eau Claire at (715) 838-0448 or in Madison at (877) 763-6636 (toll free); or write: State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882 or email Sen.Vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov. A special thanks to all those who drove to Eau Claire and testified; your stories were heard by all and I am very grateful for your patience.