Taking Steps toward Health Care Reform

“What’s happening with health care reform?” the small businessman asked me. What he really wanted to know was how soon he could get affordable coverage for his employees.

“I am worried about my daughter graduating from college” the mom shared. “She has great ideas on a job but I’m afraid nothing she wants to do is a job with health benefits”.

Health care problems haven’t gone away as the economy takes center stage. With rocky employment security, more people worry about affording and keeping health care coverage.

Businesses facing declining sales have shifted costs to employees in order to continue offering any health care coverage. But with health costs rising faster than wages and employees shouldering more cost, health insurance is increasingly unaffordable for more and more families.

In the past month Congressional leaders announced steps toward health care reform and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services suggested a new approach for small businesses. The ideas being discussed bring hope to those with expensive or no insurance: our health care problems are solvable.

Solving the problems will take some time. People estimate the soonest we might see changes from Washington, even if President-Elect Obama acts quickly, would be 2011.

But action at the state level may help Wisconsin families sooner.

As the executive branch proposes ideas and the new leadership in the Assembly begins working through their own ideas on how to fix health care, I and others in the state Senate are eager to move toward more comprehensive reform.

I do respect that others have their own ideas.

Working behind the scenes I have found there is common ground among proposals. There are also short term solutions that may ease the financial distress felt by those paying too much for poor insurance or those who have none at all.

As legislators prepare for a new session – set to begin January 5th - a few of the ideas on the drawing board include:

  • Making it easier for young adult children to stay on their parents’ policy as they begin their careers.
  • Giving small business the buying power of large companies.
  • Strengthening consumer protections for people buying individual insurance.
  • Limiting pre-existing conditions in the individual market to one year.
  • Making the state’s high risk insurance easier to get into and more affordable.

For people facing high costs or no insurance a few options are available now. The state’s high risk insurance plan has come down in cost. I would like to make it still easier to get coverage. But people who are at high risk or have a chronic disease should consider this plan.

Children under age 19 without insurance are likely eligible for the recently expanded BadgerCare program. Parents with children under 19 may also qualify. The state is hoping to expand the program to those without children at home but state budget problems may slow those plans.

Seniors who meet certain income requirements can find some relief from drug costs through the state’s Senior Care program. With rising Medicare Part D costs this may be a good option for someone you know.

For anyone struggling with drug costs, the state’s Badger RX plan might be an option.  This program is a public-private partnership between the state and Navitus Health Solutions to bring affordable prescription drugs to the uninsured and underinsured.

Call if you need information on any of these programs and I can help you navigate the details.

And stay tuned -- I do expect to see more steps taken toward health care reform in the New Year. 

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout serves the 31st Senate District. She can be contacted at Senator Kathleen Vinehout State Capitol P.O. Box 7882 Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7882 or 877-763-6636 (toll free) or email at Sen.Vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov