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WI: Real Health Care for All Workers

After the botched Massachusetts health care bill, it's nice to see Wisconsin is stepping up with a really bold health care plan. Backed by unions, businesses and municipalities, a bipartisan group of Wisconsin legislators introduced one of the most comprehensive health care proposals in the country-- one that would cover every employee in the state much like the existing workers compensation and unemployment insurance systems. An actuarial study done in 2003 estimated that employers would have to pay about $300 per month, while employees and dependents would pay a yearly deductible of $300 for a single person or $600 for a family. The Wisconsin AFL-CIO has this analysis which points out that it's the very ambition of the plan that will make the plan affordable for both employers and employees:
[V]oluntary purchasing pools don’t work, because they are inevitably subject to “adverse selection”: only groups with above average costs want to participate. “Consumer-driven” or “market” reforms simply shift costs to individuals and ration access to health care according to wealth: none of these approaches increases access to quality health care, improves our health care system, or reduces overall costs... [The proposed plan] dramatically reduces administrative costs by standardization. (Currently, about 20 to 30% of the cost of health care in the United States is for administration—much of which is simply figuring out who is to pay what for every single health care encounter. What a waste! In contrast, administrative costs for Medicare and for the single-payer Canadian health care system are about 3%.) It establishes a group large enough to bargain effectively with pharmaceutical companies for significantly reduced prescription drug prices and to establish common quality standards for hospitals and health care providers which can control and significantly reduce costs... We would avoid the problems of adverse selection which have undermined just about every effort to organize voluntary buying pools, since the Wisconsin Health Care Plan would include all employers. This proposal, paired with a similar publicly-funded plan for those not covered through employment (paid for by reduced public expenditures for Medicaid and Badgercare), would not only solve our health care crisis, it could also be a powerful tool for economic development. Imagine if we could tell current Wisconsin employers, or firms thinking of expanding or locating in Wisconsin , that their health care costs for employees would be lower than in other states, that the quality of care would be higher—and that they would have no administrative costs for the health care of their workers!
Now, this is a health care vision that takes the debate beyond incremental reforms; it holds employers responsible for providing health care, but offers the carrot to responsible employers of reduced costs and not being undercut by companies that just dump their health care costs on emergency rooms. The bill is being introduced too late to be passed this legislative session, but wil no doubt help define the election races this fall for the legislature-- and hopefully those candidates who refuse to sign up won't be coming back for January 2007.