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Op-Ed: Affordable Health Care For Wisconsin


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Op-Ed: Affordable Health Care For Wisconsin

Every day, too many Americans worry about their health care. I've heard health care concerns from people across western Wisconsin. Many are fortunate to have coverage, but often it costs too much and doesn't cover everything they need. People tell me that they are concerned about being one layoff away from being uninsured or one catastrophic illness from going bankrupt.

If we do nothing, we will continue to pay more and get less. Health care costs are expected to make up 18 percent of our national economy in 2009, 34 percent by 2040. It is the fastest growing area of spending in the federal budget, adding to budget deficits and leaving a legacy of debt to our children. In Wisconsin, health care costs grew five times faster than wages in the last nine years, eroding the salaries and wages of workers. Rising health care costs causes 230 people in our state, 14,000 nationwide, to lose their health care every day. This is a unique American challenge in need of a unique American solution. We must to better.

We must lower the cost of health care and increase access to stable coverage. Many of our uninsured are part of the working population but simply cannot afford coverage. Small businesses are struggling to afford health insurance coverage and are forced to pass greater costs on to their employees or drop coverage altogether. I introduced the SHOP Act earlier this year to create a national pool that would allow small businesses and family farmers to come together to offer affordable health insurance to employees. I am pleased that the SHOP Act, including small business tax credits to offset the cost of health insurance, is included in the current health care reform bill being considered in Congress. The reform must also be completely paid for and not add a nickel to the national deficit, ensuring the affordability of care while at the same time guaranteeing our country isn't driven further into debt as we seek to change the health care system.

In order to increase access to affordable coverage we must make sure no one is denied coverage, specifically due to pre-existing conditions. Reform seeks to build on the existing system so that if you like your employer sponsored health insurance, you can keep it. The main goal is to reduce costs. Health care reform efforts would create a new national exchange through which millions of Americans, with the help of affordability credits, could buy affordable health insurance from a selection of health insurance plans that are completely transparent on the prices charged and the services covered. Making sure all Americans have health insurance will prevent the cost shifting that adds about $1,100 per year to a person's health care costs.

How do we fix this? We need a health care system that pays for the value of care given, not the volume of care given. Our current system pays for the number of procedures ordered instead of the quality of care provided; resulting in wasteful spending that doesn't help the patient.

Currently, $680 billion, almost one-third of the amount spent on health care every year, goes to care and treatment that doesn't work. Fortunately for western Wisconsin, President Obama is pointing to our providers as models of health care to lead the nation. Providers such as the Mayo system, Gunderson Lutheran, and Marshfield Clinic are providing high quality care at one of the lowest costs in the country. By conducting comparative effectiveness studies to find out what works and what does not and employing health information technology to connect health systems, doctors across the country will be able to better and more cost effectively serve patients, just as we do here in western Wisconsin.

Comprehensive health care reform cannot wait. In order to ensure the sustainability of our health care system, we must provide stable, affordable, high quality health care to all Americans, regardless of health status or occupation.

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