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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.

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Posted by Ruth Robarts at November 28, 2005 12:23 PM


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