WisPolitics.com: Doyle Calls for 'Quality Health Care Affordable to All'
By JR Ross
Gov. Jim Doyle tonight proposed offering health insurance to 98 percent of Wisconsinites through an expansion of BadgerCare that would provide all state parents the opportunity to purchase coverage for their children and extend coverage to some 71,000 low-income adults who don’t have kids.
"If - in your heart - you believe no child, no worker, no family should go without health coverage ... if you believe the cost of inaction - in lives and dollars - is both immoral and unacceptable," Doyle said.
"If - as Democrats, Republicans, Wisconsinites - you take this bold step forward ... here is what you will achieve:
"At least 98 percent of our people will have access to health care coverage -- more than any other state in the nation. More than any other state in the nation.''
Under the proposal, parents would be allowed to purchase coverage for as low as $10 a month, and Doyle promised no family would be denied coverage for their children because their incomes go up.
He also would allow individuals making about $20,000 a year and pregnant mothers making up to $30,000 to receive coverage through the program, which to date has been reserved for children and their parents.
But while Doyle drew standing ovations when he said there should be "quality health care affordable to all" and that politicians should unite to "make Wisconsin America's leader in health care," Doyle's plan to fund the additional health care programs and his effort to snuff out smoking drew a very mixed reaction from legislators who will pass judgment on Doyle's proposed $1.25-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax and his proposed statewide smoking ban.
Only a handful of Republicans stood to cheer when Doyle discussed the discussion of BadgerCare, the key to his plan. His cigarette tax increase plan drew a mixed reaction from his fellow Dems with only two GOP lawmakers standing to show their support –- Sen. Carol Roessler of Oshkosh and Rep. J.A. “Doc” Hines of Oxford. Hines authored legislation in the last session to increase the tax, but it went nowhere.
Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-New Salem, questioned Doyle’s approach to expand health care coverage through a government program. Huebsch said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle share the same goal of making health care affordable, but he questioned a plan that essentially tells consumers “while you can’t afford yours, you’re also going to have to pay for others.”
“We can’t continue to promise so much through government, under fund those programs and not expect health care costs to go up,” Huebsch said.
The Democratic governor, fresh off a convincing re-election campaign this fall, made health care the centerpiece of his fifth State of the State address. In addition he called for robust funding for the UW System and proposed the creation of three new bureaucracies -- a new Department of Children and Families, the Office of the Wisconsin Covenant and the Office of Energy Independence -- to stress major priorities. He also used the speech to urge lawmakers to regulate so-called issue ads as a follow-up to an ethics overhaul passed by the Legislature today. And he delivered a few budget kernels just less than a month before he has to detail for lawmakers how he will pay for his proposals while fixing a $1.6 billion deficit.
Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said she supports the cigarette tax proposal. But Assembly Minority Leader Jim Kreuser, D-Kenosha, said it was too early in the process to start talking about a tax increase.
“We need to find out how we can cut spending first, get the budget in line and then look at all options,” Kreuser said. “I’m very hesitant at this point to say I favor any tax increase.”
Other aspects of Doyle's health care proposal include following the recommendation of his Healthy Wisconsin Council and creating a purchasing pool to help businesses afford health care coverage for employees by providing reinsurance on catastrophic claims. Doyle said he will simplify the eligibility process for BadgerCare and Medical Assistance programs, pledging “one application form, one piece of paper.”
He predicted his proposals would cut health insurance costs for the typical Wisconsin family by up to $500. Doyle said those expenses would go down because there would be fewer uninsured people whose health care costs are now covered by the insurance premiums others pay.
Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said BadgerCare is a wonderful program but cannot be the all-encompassing solution to people’s health care problems.
“It’s that cradle-to-grave mentality that eventually is going to be, you know, the state of Wisconsin running all aspects of everyone’s life,” Fitzgerald said.
Fresh off the Legislature’s near-unanimous approval of legislation to merge the Elections and Ethics boards into the new Government Accountability Board, Doyle urged lawmakers to take the next step in regulating so-called issue ads. Doyle called for requiring those groups that run the spots to disclose their donors, abide by contribution limits and be prohibited from accepting corporate contributions.
He also called on lawmakers to “improve the way campaigns are financed in Wisconsin.” Doyle did not offer any specifics but said he has asked Huebsch and Robson ``to work with me to come up with a strong, comprehensive bill that can win the support of both parties.''
State Rep. Mark Gundrum, chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Judiciary and Ethics, said he could support a proposal regulating issue ads if it was constitutional and did not favor one side over the others. While he didn’t want to predict whether such a proposal would pass, he said it was important for citizens to know who’s paying for the political ads they see.
“Then you see different things and you have questions about legislation and is that only there because they gave $200,000 in ads?” Gundrum said. “People don’t like that, and they shouldn’t like that. It gives the sense that government is for sale, and you’ve got to remove that.”
Doyle, who is Catholic, sprinkled a couple of religious references into his speech. He quoted Saint Paul, who wrote that "each of you has your own gifts from God," adding lawmakers have a "scared obligation to help every child in Wisconsin realize all the potential that God has given them." He also mentioned St. Luke's admonishment that to whom much is given, much is required.
Doyle also sprinkled several budget kernels throughout the speech, including: *a pledge to "cut taxes for hardworking Wisconsin families." *funding for the Office of the Wisconsin Covenant, which would oversee Doyle's desire to provide a financial package to help students who meet certain criteria pay for college. *triple state support for school breakfasts. *a "major" commitment to reducing class sizes in kindergarten through the third grade. *increasing funding to $8 million to $2 million for technical colleges to train an additional 36,000 workers. *double funding for the Youth Apprenticeship Program. *a new Wisconsin Venture Center to help inventors connect with investors from around the country. *money to help the UW System produce more college graduates, more engineers, scientists and nurses. *$40 million for renewable energy with incentives to increase the availability of E-85, an ethanol blend.