« October 2005 | Main

November 28, 2005

We Can Make Health Care Affordable

Wisconsin families and businesses are being priced out of health care coverage. It doesn't have to be this way. We can turn things around.

Every day brings new evidence that we are in the middle of a health care crisis.

The Wisconsin Realtors Association released a poll earlier this month that showed 66 percent of Wisconsin residents are worried that health care costs will soon become unaffordable.

By Wisconsin State Senator Judy Robson (D-Beloit), a registered nurse, from WisOpinion.com, November 21, 2005.

Perhaps the biggest wake-up call was the report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that showed eight of the nation's 10 most expensive cities in terms of physician costs are right here in Wisconsin.

It doesn't have to be this way. Many bright minds have put forth proposals to significantly bring down the costs of health care and insure more people. We aren't saying we need to spend more money on health care. We're saying we need to spend smarter.

One in every three dollars spent on health care in the United States is spent on administrative overhead. Not doctors, not nurses, not medicine. Anyone who had done battle with the health care bureaucracy knows how much time office workers spend figuring out the proper insurer to bill, the co-payment, the deductible, referral procedures, and whether the procedure should even be covered.

As a nurse, I have seen how much money and resources are expended on paper shuffling and marketing rather than direct patient care. I saw that the business model for health care was not working. Managed care was not bringing down health care costs. In fact, the expansion of managed care and market-based competition has coincided with the upswing in administrative costs over the last 30 years.

Jobs With Justice, a coalition of labor and faith-based organizations, calculated that we waste $94 billion nationwide due to our patchwork system of private insurers. That would be sufficient to insure 55 million people who are currently uninsured. If we also stopped drug manufacturers from overcharging for prescription drugs, we would have more than enough money to insure everyone in this country.

Of course, the pharmaceutical industry and other powerful special interests oppose any reform measures that would cut into their profits. That's why we can't wait for Congress to act. As we did with welfare reform and SeniorCare, Wisconsin can show the rest of the nation the way.

A group of state legislators has made a commitment to making health care affordable here in Wisconsin. Thirty-seven Democrats and one Republican have introduced the Action Plan for Affordable Health Care. The Action Plan requires both parties to come together to develop a plan that brings down health care costs by 15 percent within two years of enactment. The plan must also ensure that 98 percent of Wisconsin residents have health coverage. A working group could use the groundwork laid in existing proposals or develop entirely new approaches.

Any legislator who has spent any time talking to constituents knows that the cost of health care is at or near the top of their concerns. It's time for all of us to come together to develop a solution. The Republicans in control of the Legislature must change their can't-do attitude to a can-do attitude. We must stand up to special interests who oppose reform.

The Action Plan for Affordable Health Care sets the goals and the timeframe. It will be up to legislators of both parties to work out the details. The first step is for the Legislature to make affordable health care a priority.

Version 3.16 Copyright ©

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2005

Wisconsin Assembly Passes Two Bills Expanding Charter School Opportunities

This week the Wisconsin Assembly passed two bills that could expand charter school opportunities in this state. The Legislative Committee of the Madison School Board will review these bills on December 5.

Assembly Bill 730 proposes to amend current law to allow 5 UW-System 4-year universities, in addition to UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, to each sponsor not more than 5 charter schools. The vote to pass was 56-36.

Assembly Bill 698 would amend current law to raise the student enrollment cap from 400 to 480 for the elementary charter school (21st Century Preparatory School) sponsored by UW-Parkside. The vote on this bill was 62-29.

In a related development earlier this week, the Senate Higher Education and Tourism Committee recommended passage of Senate Bill 96 (i.e. Senate companion / identical bill to AB 730) on a vote
of 4-1.

A new ECS Issue Brief entitled "A State Policymaker's Guide to Alternative Authorizers of Charter Schools" provides information about the rationale for allowing multiple agencies to authorize charter schools at the Education Commission of the State's website -- http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/64/69/6469.pdf

The State Legislature's current floorperiod has ended.The next two-week floor period is scheduled for December 6 - 15, 2005. Then, the legislature will recess through the holidays and resume floor sessions in 2006.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

November 2, 2005

TABOR foes encouraged by Colorado

Sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment to limit state and local tax increases today sought to put a positive spin on a key vote in Colorado to exceed similar limits there.

"I think this shows that TABOR is working," said Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Bellevue, using the acronym for the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights. "The voters there had their say. When the people decide to tax themselves, that's how government should work."

But opponents of the proposal called it a death knell for Wisconsin's proposal.

By David Callender and Anita Weier
November 2, 2005 from The Capital Times

"This proves that robotic formulas don't work, especially when they are spliced into a state constitution," said Rich Eggleston, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities. The Alliance has opposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights efforts in Wisconsin on the grounds that local governments need flexibility to meet local needs.

"We know from public opinion polls that support for a TABOR in Wisconsin is waning. And I hope this is another nail in the coffin," he said.

Wisconsin Republicans have been pushing for the proposal for almost three years. They contend that voters - not elected officials - should decide when and how much to increase state and local taxes.

Because Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has threatened to veto any bill imposing such limits, the Republican plan would impose the limits under a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments are approved by voters and are not subject to the governor's veto.

But Republicans in the Senate and Assembly remain split over just how the plan would work. Republican leaders said recently that they hope to have a plan ready for legislative action by next spring. The earliest the plan would likely come before voters is 2007.

In Colorado, voters agreed to suspend that state's spending caps for the next five years, thereby giving up more than $3 billion in taxpayer refunds to help the state bounce back from a recession. Voters ignored fiscal conservatives who argued that the government doesn't need more money to spend.

But Lasee noted that voters rejected another ballot measure that would have allowed the state to borrow an additional $1.2 billion immediately for economic recovery.

The vote was closely watched in states around the nation. Californians are scheduled to vote on state spending limits next Tuesday, and Kansas, Ohio, Maine, Nevada, Oklahoma and Arizona are considering spending caps.

"Colorado is still in a world of fiscal hurt. Its school system is at the bottom of the country. Its roads still need way more help than yesterday's referendum will provide. Legislators who can't do their jobs - to run the state budget the way taxpayers want - shouldn't rely on a TABOR for Wisconsin," Eggleston said.

Supporters of the referendum said Colorado simply could not afford to vote no, not with higher education, health care and transportation already suffering from millions of dollars in budget cuts.

"It was a tough election for all," said Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who stunned his own party by joining Democrats in crafting the measure. "Everyone cares for Colorado, and I understand why others feel differently."

The referendum approved Tuesday lets the state keep an estimated $3.7 billion over five years that would otherwise be refunded under its TABOR, a constitutional amendment that is considered the nation's strictest cap on government spending.

With 98 percent of the expected vote counted statewide, 559,006 voters, or 52 percent, had approved the plan, compared with 516,808, or 48 percent, who voted against it.

Voters rejected a second ballot measure that would have let the state to borrow up to $2.1 billion for roads, school maintenance, pensions and other projects. With 98 percent of the expected vote counted, 543,521 people were opposed, 529,293 were in favor.

One opposition group was already threatening legal action Tuesday night over voting problems that cropped up late in the day.

In the traditional conservative stronghold of El Paso County, anchored by Colorado Springs, some voters waited in line well after the polls should have closed because a higher-than-expected turnout had created a ballot shortage. Some people left in frustration, clerk Bob Balink said.

In Greeley, heavy turnout had voters at one library waiting in line for 40 minutes to cast their ballots.

"My job depends on it. Without it, we're toast," said Laura Manuel, who works at Metropolitan State College in Denver and supported suspending the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. "People want a free lunch - they want roads and sidewalks but don't want to pay for it."

The 1992 constitutional amendment, dubbed TABOR, has been celebrated by fiscal conservatives across the country. Until this year, Owens was among them, but he said he backed the change because Colorado faces a fiscal crisis.

Randy Wood, a 45-year-old PTA member with two daughters in Denver's public schools, said he voted in favor because he worries about more cuts in education after seeing music and the arts suffer.

Patricia Kropf, a retired dental office manager from Denver, said she voted against it.

"We don't trust the government, and we don't know what they would do with the money," the 62-year-old Republican said.

The vote capped a bitter, $8 million campaign.

Supporters argued that without the change, Colorado would be forced to close state parks and cut funding for health care and universities and community colleges.

Opponents branded the measures a tax grab by politicians too gutless to make tough decisions on spending.

"We have some people running around saying the sky is falling. Others say this is the opportunity we have been waiting for, that we can do government with less," said Jon Caldara, leader of the opposition group Vote No; It's Your Dough. Caldara said the ballot shortages Tuesday were inexcusable and he threatened legal action.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 10:19 AM