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One Step Moves Us Forward to More Affordable Healthcare

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 06 March 2018
in Wisconsin

affordablecareA new law creates Risk Corridors* for Health Care insurance providers in Wisconsin, a technical mechanism to help level the risk for insurers. Minnesota enacted a similar law to achieve a premium reduction, and also created their own health care network and accepted Medicaid expansion dollars, ideas that could benefit Wisconsin.


MADISON - “Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, I’ll see you Tuesday.” I said as I left the office in Madison.

By the next day, the creek at the base of my farm’s steep driveway had risen over the road. The rushing water cut a channel through the gravel town road, making the road impassable.

My forward-thinking husband kept an eye on the water’s progress and moved vehicles over to the other side before the rushing water completely cut through the road.

This morning twelve bluebirds and a robin hung out by the bird feeders. Spring comes one step at a time: snow melt, more snow, more melting and mud. The old farmers say snow must fall three times on a robin’s tail. Another big snowfall this week is snowfall number one on the robin’s tail.

Back in Madison, at the State Capitol, there is not much evidence of a thaw between the Senate and Assembly or between the majority and the minority parties. However, the Senate did pass a bipartisan bill to help lower health insurance premiums.

“What do you think of Risk Corridors?” an older Barron County farmer recently asked me at a public meeting in Eau Claire. Quite surprised, I asked him “How did you know about “risk corridors?”

“I’m paying attention!” he smiled. “And, I pay too much for health care. I think this plan will help lower my premiums.”

I agreed, “It’s a good idea and I voted for the bill.” The rest of our group looked very puzzled.

Risk corridors is a wonky phase describing an idea to lower premiums under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). I explained the plan like this: Remember when we had Blue Cross Blue Shield as not for profit health insurance. Plans were community rated – meaning everyone paid the same price regardless of age and health. This was an “up-front” leveling or sharing of risk for insurance companies.

Risk corridors are similar in purpose, but a more behind the scenes leveling. Think of risk corridors like a profit and loss sharing mechanism to help insurers balance risk.

The Barron County farmer joins about 200,000 people in Wisconsin who buy insurance on their own through the healthcare.gov marketplace.

Wisconsin saw premiums in the marketplace increase on average 36% from 2017 to 2018. Many families were dropped by their health plans and had to find other insurance. Still others dropped coverage because of price increases.

Minnesota took up the idea of risk corridors and lowered 2018 insurance premiums under Obamacare by 20%, compared to where premiums would have been without risk corridors. This savings was possible in part because Minnesota has its own marketplace – MNsure – and expanded Medicaid (MinnesotaCare). These are two ideas I strongly support and would help Wisconsin get to Minnesota’s 20% premium drop.

Senate Bill 770, the bill to create risk corridors, recently passed the Legislature and was signed into law by the Governor. The bill passed in an interesting bipartisan vote. Some Republicans voted “no” because they thought the bill went too far; some Democrats voted against it because they didn’t think the bill went far enough.

Leaving the event in Eau Claire I reflected on the two persistent questions I heard at the forum: how are you going to fix health care and how are Democrats and Republicans going to work together?

With SB 770, we took a small step forward. Just a small step on the long road toward healthcare for all - but in today’s political climate perhaps only small steps are possible.

Politics often seems to be the art of the possible. I strongly believe whatever steps forward we CAN take, we SHOULD take.

Spring does not arrive all at once. We welcome the first robin, and see the robin as the first sign of the coming of spring. So it is with health care; I welcome any step forward as a sign that we can make our way down the road.

We never get to the end of the road until we travel it.

****

* Risk Corridors can be described as a healthcare exchange re-insurance pool where participating insurers who MADE MONEY in a given year would kick a percentage of their profits into the pool, administered by the Federal Government, from which any insurers who LOST MONEY during that same year could recoup their losses.

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A Wheelchair is Not a Trampoline: Questioning Assumptions about Support

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 27 February 2018
in Wisconsin

family-worried-billsThe recently passed Special Session bills make it more difficult for people living in poverty to achieve their dream of family supporting jobs and getting off government assistance.


MADISON - “Public assistance should be a trampoline not a hammock,” read the title of Governor Walker’s press release touting work on a package of bills introduced in a Legislative Special Session. The bills made changes to certain programs targeted at helping those living in poverty.

During the recent Senate debate, proponents of the bills declared the best road out of poverty was a job. No one in the Senate disagreed. However, what these bills really do is KEEP people in poverty and make a few companies richer while providing little accountability.

The assumption of the hammock metaphor is that people are lazy and just need a kick to get moving. Another assumption is that fraud is rampant. Both assumptions are false. FoodShare is heavily scrutinized to ensure compliance. Wisconsin has an error rate around one percent.

Most people who use FoodShare or BadgerCare do so short term. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 60% of non-elderly folks who use Medicaid are already working. Another third are in school, ill or caring for someone in need.

According to David Lee of Hunger Task Force in Wisconsin, about two-thirds of those who get FoodShare are seniors, disabled, and children – people who cannot work. Of the remaining third, half are already working. Many others are caregivers – for either the elderly, disabled or children.

Part of the Special Session plan is to make it harder to get FoodShare and BadgerCare. Families may have to sell their home if it’s more than 200% of average state value. Farmers may have to sell livestock, equipment and farm buildings. Disabled folks might lose their accessible van if it’s worth over $10,000.

These rules fly in the face of common sense. If we want a farmer to do better, or a wheelchair bound person to succeed why would we make them sell items essential to their livelihood?

The cornerstone of the Governor’s plan is a program called FoodShare Employment and Training – FSET for short. The program relies on several contractors around the state who screen people and get them into work.

Lawmakers heard stories of FSET companies creating incentives for job counselors to get people into low wage jobs as soon as possible. For example, we heard about a young woman who wanted to get her GED to improve her ability to get work. Instead, the FSET job counselor sent her to a minimum wage fast food job.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reported that FSET participants, who gained employment in December of 2016, made an average of $12.19 an hour and worked an average of 34 hours a week. The LFB reported that participants with those wages and hours worked would still be eligible for FoodShare.

Further, the LFB reported on a string of problems with FSET. Costs per person per month were more than double the original budget estimate. Federal inspections turned up problems in Milwaukee, including civil rights violations, the lack of individualized services, and restricted education and training opportunities. Corrective actions and recommendations were slow or not completed. Despite three years of problems, the state made only one onsite visit.

Despite such poor performance and lack of evaluation, state officials awarded bonuses. The Department of Health Services gave “pay for performance” bonus money to all but one of the 11 FSET companies for “accuracy” and “timely completion of quarterly reports” – requirements FSET companies should meet at a minimum.

Unbelievably, Special Session Assembly Bill 6 more than quadrupled these “pay for performance” bonuses to the FSET companies.

Every group that works with those struggling to gain economic stability opposed these Special Session bills. Their thoughtful and compelling testimony clearly demonstrated that people want to move out of poverty and off government assistance. All they need are the tools to help them achieve their dream.

A wheelchair is not a hammock, but essential equipment. A warm house, food, health care and education are not a hammock but rather the essential tools to help people get that job that moves them out of poverty.

The measure of a civilized society is how we treat those in need. The Governor’s plan cuts the springs holding up the trampoline just as a person jumps.

For many, life is very difficult. When we reach out helping hands to those in need, we do our part to make not only their lives better, but ours as well.

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Senators Have Double-Standard When It Comes to Fraud

Posted by Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 22 February 2018
in Wisconsin

walker-open-for-businessSenate Republicans in Madison go after the little guy while CEOs and wealthy business owners walk free says Hansen. Introduces amendment to hold all to same standard.


MADISON - State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said Tuesday that when it comes to punishing those who commit fraud against Wisconsin taxpayers Senate Republicans are only interested in going after the little guy.

dave-hansen-gb“Fraud is fraud. It doesn’t matter if the person committing it is rich or poor. Both should be held accountable for their actions. Senate Republicans had a chance tonight to hold CEOs and wealthy business owners who commit fraud applying for taxpayer economic assistance to the same standard as people who commit unemployment fraud but they chose not to,” said Hansen.

Hansen introduced an amendment that would subject business owners and CEOs to the same standard as a person who commits fraud in applying for unemployment benefits but Senate Republicans rejected the amendment on a party-line vote.

“The system is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful in this state. Whether it’s the Trump/Ryan tax bill that gives more of our money to wealthy corporations, Walker’s $4 billion dollar plus giveaway to Chinese-based Foxconn or what we saw here tonight when they voted against punishing rich CEOs and owners who commit corporate welfare fraud, the system is rigged against average folks.”

“Thanks to Governor Walker and Senate Republicans there are two sets of rules: one for the rich and one for everybody else.”

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Republicans Pass Wetlands Destruction Bill

Posted by Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 21 February 2018
in Wisconsin

wetlands-wiThe assault on our quality of life continues with passage of a bill that will lead to more flooding and damage to homes and businesses.


MADISON - On a day that saw flood warnings for parts of Wisconsin, Senate Republicans passed a bill that will lead to more and more flooding and damage to homes and businesses resulting from the destruction of even more wetlands said Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay).

“As we have seen with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, flooding due to the loss of wetlands can be catastrophic. Rather than learn from this tragic lesson, Senate Republicans have chosen to ignore it in the interest of serving their corporate donors,” said Hansen.

hurricane-harveyMuch of the flooding that resulted from Hurricane Harvey was linked to the loss of crucial wetlands in the Houston area. Wetlands play a vital role in controlling flooding. When wetlands are developed, especially in cities and large population areas flooding increases. In addition to loss of life, increased flooding can result in millions of dollars of damage to homes, businesses and schools.

dave-hansen“What the Republicans did here today is extremely short-sighted," said Hansen. "It will destroy critical habitat for wildlife, increase the potential for catastrophic flooding and cost residents of affected areas more in increased insurance costs and premiums.”

Earlier in the day Senate Republicans voted to eliminate a program that monitors air pollution along the Lake Michigan coastline.

“Whether it’s voting to allow industrial acid mining in north and central Wisconsin, refusing to address the threat posed by the Aquila Mine Back Forty Project just across our border, peeling back our laws that protect our clean air and drinking water, or voting yet again to allow the destruction of our wetlands, the common thread in their actions is clear: There is nothing they won’t do to appease their wealthy donors, even if it means destroying the legacy of one of the nation’s strongest conservation movements in our nation’s history and the quality of life that goes along with it.”

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Removing Wetland Protections Needs Serious Deliberation

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 20 February 2018
in Wisconsin

road-wi-flood-washoutChanging laws regarding wetlands cannot be done swiftly. The impact of eliminating nature’s “natural sponge” can be devastating when severe weather brings heavy rains. Flooding in Huston TX was more severe because much of its wetlands were removed. These critical issues need careful deliberation and engaged citizen discussion.


MADISON - Last Friday afternoon we learned of the 79 bills up for a vote on Tuesday. I spoke with my neighbor shortly after seeing the long list.

“How can they possibly know what they are voting on?” she asked me. I replied there is no time to talk with people and learn the effects of these changes.

Legislation moving quickly through the process makes changes to protections of our wetlands; specifically, wet areas not connected to a navigable body of water.

Wisconsin has more than one million acres of “isolated” wetlands. These areas are our swamps, meadows and marshes. Isolated wetlands are regulated by the state, hence the ability of state lawmakers to remove protections.

Talking to scientists and engineers is key to understanding the importance of wetlands and the implications of removing state protections. However, legislation moving at warp speed with little public notice make it nearly impossible to have these conversations.

Wetlands are key to our ecology. They provide habitat to an immense array of creatures and plants. Wetlands recharge ground water, help control erosion, and store excess water caused by severe weather.

Our farmstead sits 50’ above a large swamp and marsh. The wetlands capture flooding waters from the swollen Buffalo River. In the past several years, we saw several serious floods. The flooding in our wetlands eased possible destruction by the unusually intense storms.

“In the last six years, Wisconsin has seen five 100-year floods and one 1,000-year flood,” wrote Tyler Esh, the Eau Claire Emergency Management Coordinator. “Rains are becoming increasingly severe.”

These severe floods led many people I represent to question current state policies. For example, a town official asked for help with a washed-out road. He wanted to double the size of a culvert that washed out in a severe storm. We could not get adequate state help to pay for the improvements. The following year, the road and culvert washed out again.

Floods know no boundaries. Folks in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties remember last summer flooding when up to 8 inches of rain fell causing sewers to overflow. Filling in wetlands makes things worse in urban as well as rural areas.

The City of Houston learned a hard lesson this summer. Part of the reason Houston flooded so badly was because they took out wetlands and built on the low land. In one of several similar stories I read, reporters for Quartz Media wrote,

“Even after it became a widely accepted scientific fact that wetlands can soak up large amounts of flood water, the city continued to pave over them… From 1992 to 2010, this area lost more than 70% of its wetlands, according to research by Texas A&M University…The city, the largest in the US with no zoning laws, is a case study in limiting government regulations and favoring growth – often at the expense of the environment. As water swamps many of its neighborhoods, it’s now a cautionary tale of sidelining science and plain common sense.”

Too often speed and secrecy in the legislative process replaces thoughtful, public discussion. Maybe lawmakers should ask homeowners still recovering from the floods if removing wetland protections is in the public’s best interest.

Lawmakers swore an oath to protect the Constitution including to promote the general welfare. In our age of climate change and very unpredictable weather patterns, leaders have a responsibility to protect citizens from the damaging effects of severe weather. Wetlands – nature’s “natural sponge” – are part of the answer to protecting us from flooding.

Instead of removing Wisconsin’s isolated wetlands protections, we should develop new strategies to cope with changing weather patterns that threaten us. Emergency funds and disaster programs should be changed to address the breadth of problems created by floods. Transportation plans should provide for increased water volume.

The legislative process is designed to force deliberation necessary to thoroughly examine any given issue. Careful consideration seems impossible with legislation speeding through the process. For example, at 9:44 a.m. on Monday we received the Assembly Session calendar for Tuesday. This is the first opportunity the public and press have to review the list of 93 bills up for final passage.

Such critical issues as protecting our precious wetlands need a thoughtful, informed and citizen engaged discussion.

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