By Robert Kraig
In an interview with a reporter at the Governor’s Mansion just before Christmas, Scott Walker announced an abrupt change in Wisconsin’s approach to national health care reform. The timing and manner of the revelation was designed to limit publicity for a policy shift that needlessly delays action on one of the most pressing problems facing the Wisconsin.
It had been the position of both Governor Doyle and Walker that Wisconsin should vigorously plan the new competitive health insurance marketplaces (so called “health insurance exchanges”), which are a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, the new national health care reform law. The goal is to establish greater competition on cost and quality between health insurance companies, consumer standards that outlaw the worst insurance abuses such as the denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions, and to guarantee more consumer options for high quality affordable health coverage.
Walker has now suspended planning for implementing the new competitive health marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act until the U.S. Supreme Court decides legal challenges next summer. This will leave Wisconsin unprepared to meet the end of the year deadline for submitting its plan. This position is inconsistent, as Walker continues to vigorously implement a number of his own initiatives which are under legal challenge.
Walker seems to believe that skyrocketing health insurance costs and access to affordable coverage are not major problems. Walker’s Insurance Commissioner asserted that Wisconsin health insurance companies are keeping costs “manageable” and his Health Services Secretary claimed that all of the nearly 65,000 people he wants to force off BadgerCare will still have access to affordable coverage.
This rosy view is not borne out by the facts. According to Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s annual Wisconsin Health Insurance Cost Ranking report health insurance premiums have increased at a completely unsustainable rate, skyrocketing by 182% since 2000, 18% above the national average. The report also found stunning variations in health insurance premiums between the regions of Wisconsin. The most expensive areas of the state, Northwestern, North Central, and Southeastern Wisconsin, are about 30% more expensive than Madison, a difference of about $2,000 per year for single health coverage.
This disparity between Madison and the rest of the state provides tantalizing evidence that market reforms have the potential to rein in skyrocketing costs. Madison’s health insurance cost are lower because it has more competition based on cost and quality, and a stronger purchasing pool (state employees) with more market leverage to put downward pressure on costs.
Given the oppressive burden of health care hyperinflation on the health security of Wisconsin workers and families, it is highly irresponsible for Walker suspend planning of reforms that could increase access to affordable coverage, end discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, and create new tools for controlling costs. It is reckless to suspend planning for reform without any public discussion, and without developing any serious alternative to a status quo that is not working for Wisconsin.
Robert Kraig is Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Citizen Action’s Wisconsin Health Insurance Cost Ranking Report 2012 can be obtained at www.citizenactionwi.org