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Use New Federal Money For Badgercare to Help Workers & Lower Premium Costs

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, 19 August 2014
in Wisconsin

healthcareSenator Vinehout writes about the savings to the state if the Governor and majority of Legislators had fully implemented the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). She had asked the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to do a new estimate updated from the figures provided during the 2013-15 budget debate.

ALMA - “I’m so glad to see you,” Mary from Eau Claire told me at a recent neighborhood gathering. I asked how she was doing.

“It’s hard,” she admitted. “I work 32 hours a week. I make $8.00 an hour. I tried to get more hours but they won’t let me.” Her husband, Tom, lost his maintenance job at the university. He’s a 23-year Army Reserve veteran but there’s no pension and no new job in sight.

“My twin sister lives in La Crosse. I love her dearly. I haven’t seen her since Christmas. I’d love to visit her but when I get all the bills paid, I don’t even have $20 for gas to get me there and back,” Mary said. “And, I don’t have any health insurance. What if something happened to one of us?”

Mary and Tom (not their real names) aren’t eligible for BadgerCare and can’t afford a single new expense. The couple falls through the cracks of Wisconsin’s health insurance safety net. Hitting bottom with an unexpected medical expense would devastate them – and hurt all of us.

The holes in this safety net could be patched. Mending the net would help Mary, Tom, and couples like them while also bringing down the cost of health insurance for all the rest of us.

Mending the net would also make a big difference in the state’s ability to balance its books.

According to State Health Facts compiled by Kaiser Family Foundation, about 14% of those in Wisconsin between age 19 and 64 do not have health insurance.

Some of the uninsured found insurance through BadgerCare and some through the federal Marketplace. But others who were covered by BadgerCare are now without coverage.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported that of the 62,000 plus people who lost BadgerCare in April, less than a third found health insurance in the Marketplace by mid-June. Looking at the same data, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families analyst Jon Peacock reported, “I’m not optimistic that a very large portion of the roughly 38,000 people whose [health insurance] status is unknown have gotten private insurance outside the Marketplace.”

Peacock concluded these new –likely uninsured – people will “make it harder to reach the Governor’s goal of cutting in half the number of uninsured Wisconsinites.”

Under the Governor’s changes to the BadgerCare program, eligibility for most adults is limited to those who make under 100% of the federal poverty level – that means an annual household income of $11,670 for a single person. This limit is increased - for a single person- by more than $3,800 under the federal Affordable Care Act. And as family size increases, so does the income limit.

Under Wisconsin’s current BadgerCare program the federal government pays 59% of the cost of those covered by the program. However, the Affordable Care Act provides states additional dollars to cover 100% of “newly-eligible” groups for calendar years 2014-2016, 95% of costs in 2017, 94% in 2018, 93% in 2019 and 90% in 2020 and every year after. Those who voted for the most recent state budget turned down the additional federal funds.

I recently asked the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) what the difference in spending would have been, compared to current law, if Wisconsin had fully implemented the federal health law.

Just in the current budget, the state would have saved $206 million (in general funds) and covered another 87,000 people. These numbers are substantially higher than the original estimates made by the LFB during the budget debate. This is, in part, because the state saw higher than expected enrollment in BadgerCare by the very poor.

Recent numbers show taking such action to implement the federal health law would save over $250 million in the next budget. Our Medicaid program is currently on track to run over $200 million in the red. Taking money offered by the feds is clearly the fiscally prudent action.

But more important is our moral obligation to help couples across the state like Mary and Tom.

By helping them, we help ourselves: every uninsured person who gains coverage helps lower insurance premiums for the rest of us.

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Do Not Call! Stopping those Pesky Direct Marketing Calls

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 Monday, 11 August 2014
in Wisconsin

telephoneThis week, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about the Do Not Call List and changes to that list which started this month. The state consolidated its Do Not Call List with the federal Do Not Call Registry maintained by the Federal Trade Commission to make things easier for those registering their phone numbers and save state dollars.

MADISON - A gentleman called my office on behalf of his sister. She was receiving calls from salespeople even though she registered her phone with the Do Not Call List. His sister was feeling harassed by a particular company that kept calling her at all hours. “Where do we turn to get help?” he asked.

Wisconsin has maintained a Do Not Call List for many years. Registering your phone numbers on the list keeps away pesky direct marketing calls. But Wisconsin’s Do Not Call List required individuals re-register their phone number every two years.

Beginning this month, the state Do Not Call list was consolidated with the Federal Do Not Call List maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The list also became permanent. Once a phone number is on the list, there is no need to put the number back on the list every two years – as was the case under the state system.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection (DATCP) will continue to oversee the enforcement of rules and investigation of complaints. Direct marketing companies in Wisconsin must still prove they comply with the federal law. The law also prohibits companies from using fictitious names or misrepresenting their identity, location or affiliation.

The state established the Do Not Call list in 2001. Folks were required to give their phone number and zip code to DATCP every two years. During that time, direct marketers could not make “cold calls” or calls without any prior business relationship, to the consumer. Calls to current clients, calls from non-profits and political calls were exempt from the law.

Some have attempted to include political calls on the list – something I support – but this legislation has not yet been successful.

The law also prohibits making pre-recorded telephone solicitations and forbids a call if a customer asks a business in writing to stop making calls.

In 2008, the Wisconsin law was changed to forbid calls to cell phones and changed again in 2012 to forbid unwanted text messages to phone numbers on the list.

I voted in favor of the new law consolidating Wisconsin’s Do Not Call List with the federal list. People complained to me about their Do Not Call List number receiving calls only to find out they needed to register the number again – an unnecessary hassle.

Wisconsin joins several states including Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois that moved to the national list while keeping oversight and enforcement at the state level. The reasons include the ease at registering numbers, the permanence of the list and the lower cost to states.

Merging with the federal Do Not Call list saves the state around $185,000 per year. Those dollars will be used for enforcement and consumer education.

Telemarketing calls is the number one complaint fielded by state consumer protection investigators. Digging through details of complaints, I often find the reason for the unwanted calls can be traced to the 2-year limit on the Wisconsin list. Hopefully the new permanent system will resolve this problem.

However, Consumer Protection officials warn that if you do receive sales calls at a phone number you registered on the Do Not Call list, those calls are most likely fraudulent. Protect yourself and others by reporting those calls to DATCP.

The complete state list has now been merged with the federal list. But phone numbers that dropped off the state list at the end of the two-year limit were not sent to the FTC. To make sure your number is on the permanent list you can verify the number at or call (from the number you want to verify) 1-888-382-1222 or TTY 1-866-290-4236.

Remember that if your phone number did drop off the state list and you re-registered it, the restrictions on direct marketers go into effect 31 days after your call.

If you are on the list and still being harassed by direct marketers after the 31-day period, you can file a complaint through DATCP by calling 1-800-422-7128 online at You can also call your favorite senator at 1-877-763-6636 and I will get you started.

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Fair-goers Living with Health Insurance Changes; Asking for More

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, 05 August 2014
in Wisconsin

fairgoersThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about health care conversations she had with people attending county fairs. Many people were thankful for affordable health care rates but others were concerned about the difference in insurance rates between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota's rates were lower. Local folks also asked why Wisconsin turned down the federal Medicaid expansion dollars.

BLACK RIVER FALLS, WI - “The Affordable Care Act has been godsend for me,” the middle-aged, single man whispered to me at the Jackson County Fair. “I had paid $336 a month, now I pay $56 and its better insurance.”

Health insurance, and what Wisconsin should do about it, was the topic of conversation at the Jackson County Fair. A local civic organization asked fair-goers the question; is the Affordable Care Act the same as Obamacare? Three out of four who answered this unscientific poll were correct: Yes!

One woman worried about the quarter who got the answer wrong. “They agree adult children should be covered on their parents plan until age 26,” she told me. “They agree women should not pay more than men, pre-existing conditions should be covered, no life-time caps and we should have lower rates – but they hate Obamacare. They don’t know these are the same.”

I heard many whispered thanks for lower rates; whispered because it might not be socially acceptable to embrace Obamacare in mixed company at the fair. But moving from Jackson County to border counties - Trempealeau and Buffalo – I heard comparisons with Minnesota.

“My sister pays a third of what I pay,” a woman said. “She lives in Winona. Why can’t I get a better price?” Both women bought health insurance on the exchange. Minnesota has its own exchange; Wisconsin’s governor turned down that option.

Reporters at the St. Paul Pioneer Press analyzed health insurance exchange rates across 36 states divided into 406 geographic areas. The Dunn County News summarized the reporters’ work:

The Twin Cities [is] a rating area that has the lowest "benchmark" premium for a 50-year-old who doesn't smoke, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services... The newspaper found that the rating area that covers Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties in western Wisconsin has the second-highest benchmark premium for a 50-year-old nonsmoker.

How can it be the Cities has the lowest health insurance rates and, just across the river, the rates are the second highest of 406 different geographic areas?

The article attributes the price difference to a lack of competition in Wisconsin and “a convergence of policy decisions” between the two states. Two reasons mentioned by the Pioneer Press are the way the two states handled high-risk pools (known in Wisconsin as HIRSP) and whether or not the state accepted hundreds of millions in federal Medicaid money for newly eligible people.

Minnesota decided to keep high-risk people in their own state-run pool – at least for now. Wisconsin chose to eliminate the pool and send high-risk people to private insurance. Wisconsin’s HIRSP program was very effective at providing high quality care while carefully controlling health costs.

Moving some 60,000 Wisconsin parents from BadgerCare to the private exchange likely raised rates for others buying through the exchange. Statistics tell us families of modest means will have higher health costs than those better off.

Debate still rages on whether or not Wisconsin should have its own exchange. I’m firmly in the “yes” camp. In the proposed law I drafted to create a Badger Health Exchange, high risk individuals would not immediately lose coverage and be sent to commercial insurance (raising rates in the entire pool). And in budget amendments drafted by my colleagues and me, Wisconsin would accept the projected $2.4 billion federal money over 8 years and keep low-income parents on BadgerCare when their children were also eligible.

Recent state health department data shows a surprisingly low number of people who lost BadgerCare actually got insurance through the federal exchange. Only a third of parents who lost BadgerCare actually got private insurance. These families all live on the edge of poverty and all have children living at home.

Fair-goers I’ve met over the past few weeks don’t understand why Wisconsin’s governor turned back hundreds of millions to keep up the anti-Obamacare rhetoric. As one farmer said, “It’s the law and we have to move on. We might not like it all, but it’s the best we’ve got.”

For those who now have affordable coverage the whispered words remain: the new law is a godsend.

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County Fairs: Competition, Critters and Community

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, 29 July 2014
in Wisconsin

county-fairThis week Kathleen writes about county fair season.

ALMA - “I haven’t seen you in at least 20 years,” the rural Ettrick women exclaimed as she shook the older man’s hand. “Catching up with friends is a great part of the county fair,” she leaned over and told me.

It’s county fair-time.

Walking through the fairgrounds I see the efforts of many volunteers. Thousands of hours go into preparing for the fair. Preparations for this year began shortly after last year’s fair concluded.

Young people compete for fair premiums, blue ribbons and trophies. Their preparation begins in the selection of projects, generally through 4H and FFA. Detailed records are kept of animal’s production. Young animals are taught to lead. Youngsters learn the proper way to show. Parents encourage, prod and persevere through the stressful last weeks of preparation.

Oldsters get into the action thinking of quilts, preserves, crops or tractors to show.

Volunteer boards run most county fairs. Every member of the board is a strong contributor to the operation of the fair. Every detail of building maintenance, entertainment, purchase of supplies, vendor contracts, and fair booth preparation gets scrutinized by the fair board volunteers.

County fairs have a deep tradition in our state. Wisconsin’s first county fair was held in Waukesha County back in 1842. This fair was held before Wisconsin was even a state! At that fair a handful of exhibitors showed their agricultural exhibits. A total of $40 was awarded to exhibitors. Now Wisconsin has 76 state-aided fairs every year. Seventy-one of Wisconsin’s 72 hold county fairs. Five of those counties also host a district fair.

The old agricultural expositions, as they were sometimes called, became a place for city folks to meet country dwellers and for farmers to compete against each other. Fairs helped grow the dairy industry. They also became a time for farmers to learn the latest in agriculture techniques and compete against each other in categories from quilts to corn.

Everyone looked forward to Fair Day.

Youngsters arrive by the carload, carefully carrying their projects. Family, friends or adult leaders help unload the cattle and kids take them to the wash rack for a cold bath.

Horses are bathed and polished. Teens saddle up and head to the exercise ring to work off nervous energy. Over and over again youngsters ride through the pattern their horse will perform. The youth strive to win the best time, take home a trophy and a small premium check.

Sheep, lamas, swine, goats, fowl, rabbits, cats and dogs are among the myriad of animals that compete for awards.

But the fair is about more than clean critters and competition. It’s about community.

It’s time to catch up with relatives, friends and neighbors. Grandparents share stories of their children. And the tradition continues as their children remind their own offspring in a way that sounds strangely like something that parent heard as a child.

Generations of youngsters grew up with 4H. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 4H program nationwide. Like the first county fairs, 4H started with a focus on farming. Today the organization is much more than crops and livestock. Rural and city youth alike participate in a wide spectrum of programs that teach them important life skills. Technology is providing new opportunities for youth.

Digital photography, computer and web categories are bringing in a whole new group of technology driven exhibitors.

4H will continue strong into its second 100 years because of the contributions of so many adults who teach generations of youngsters. Recently I attended 4H leadership awards where we celebrated a gentleman who gave 60 years of leadership to youth in 4H.

The volunteers serving on the fair board, in the booths, as livestock supervisors, 4H leaders, parents, grandparents and adult mentors come together to create a fair experience youngsters remember forever.

The fair creates the spirit of community that nurtures the soul and encourages the young person to say, “I want to raise my family here.”

Hats off to all the volunteers who make this year’s fairs the best ever.

If you haven’t had your fill of fairs, the Jackson, Buffalo and Pierce County Fairs are coming up. And don’t forget Wisconsin’s premier State Fair!

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Walker Trek Ads An Enigma

Posted by Joanne Kaus
Joanne Kaus
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on Tuesday, 29 July 2014
in Wisconsin

scottwalkerGRAFTON - I don't get it! Scott Walker has been a proponent of trade companies that encourage out sourcing. Eaton and Plexus who got millions in tax breaks from WEDC out sourced jobs and then laid off 279 workers. He was a defender and supporter of Mitt Romney who shipped lots of jobs overseas. He traveled to China to promote trade relations that include outsourcing. So why are there two expensive ads being run now by Walker criticizing Trek bikes who may have outsourced some jobs even after he praised Trek a couple years ago for being a model company? Could this be that Scott Walker is forgetful, or is it hypocrisy?

The above process is pretty much the way companies operate today, much as we don't like it. In spite of outsourcing jobs, Trek has continued to employ close to 1000 people here in Wis. To me this is impressive. Also impressive is "Invest for Success", Mary Burke's 47 page plan to create jobs here in Wisconsin.

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