When I was first elected Senator I did not have health insurance. Since I took office, I have been working hard to bring the same health insurance benefits I now have to all the people back home that need affordable health care.
I have spent hundreds of hours working with a few of my colleagues to write a plan that would bring health care reform to Wisconsin. This week the work that has taken up so much of my life for the past six months was finally made public.
The plan, known as “Healthy Wisconsin, Your Choice Your Plan” covers people who are residents of Wisconsin but not eligible for public plans like Medicaid, Medicare or BadgerCare. Every man, woman and child who is a resident of Wisconsin would have access to affordable health care.
The plan provides benefits similar to those provided to state employees including mental health care, prescription drugs, and hospital and physician coverage. People choose their own primary care provider. Doctors and hospitals stay private but benefit from a system that dramatically streamlines paperwork and pays on time.
Workers and employers pay premiums through payroll deduction. The amount is based on how much people earn. For the average wage earner making $42,333 (the average salary in Wisconsin) the worker pays $140 a month and the employer $370 a month. Union workers who have better benefits could bargain for better coverage.
Those who are self employed pay 10% of their wages under a cap. So a farmer who takes a salary of $600 a month (as I did for many years) would pay $60 a month.
The plan dramatically saves money by putting most of Wisconsin residents under a single health care purchasing system. In the last few weeks, AARP commissioned an independent actuarial firm (the insurance consultant type) to study the plan. The Senate didn’t pay for the numbers, nor were we able to influence what the numbers said.
But the results are amazing. The study estimated that we can save $1.02 billion in a single year by streamlining administration and cutting waste. I knew there was a lot of wasted paperwork in the system but that is a lot of money. Far more money than we need to take care of those people who now don’t have any insurance or have very poor insurance.
Getting the plan written meant reaching agreement with the authors of the three plans that we have been hearing about for a few years. This took quite a bit of careful negotiation – something I have not had much experience at- and I learned much.
Now we have an even more difficult job. Getting the plan agreed to by a majority of Senators and Representatives. The Senate will debate the plan this week. Our leader, Senator Judy Robson, a former registered nurse, is very committed to health care reform. She wants to see the health plan put in the budget. This would improve the chances of passing the plan soon.
Health care reform is a long time coming. It is not quite here yet. But we took a giant step forward. Now the plan is public, the debate will begin. You will hear much about the plan. Some will be distortions and misinformation. The stakes are high. We must cut waste and greed. And those who are profiting from the system will not give up easily.
If you are interested in learning more about the plan please contact me. If you have ideas, please write or call. 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.