Home / Legal News / Health care court ruling unlikely to spur action in Wis. (UPDATE)

Health care court ruling unlikely to spur action in Wis. (UPDATE)

Carol Paris of Leonardtown, Md., demonstrates outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Monday. On Thursday, the Supreme Court will deliver its ruling on President Barack Obama's health care package. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Regardless of the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has vowed not to do anything until after the November election.

Walker, an outspoken critic of the law, originally said in January that he would not begin setting up the state’s health insurance exchange required by the law until after the court ruled. Earlier this month, the Republican governor went even further, saying that if the law is upheld he will not do anything until after the election, hoping that the next president and Congress will repeal it.

Only after those two fail would Wisconsin “figure out some alternative within the state,” Walker said in a statement released by his office this week.

Republican state lawmakers appear to be on board with that approach, even while Democrats and health care advocates say the state should be more bullish in moving forward with consumer protections and other reforms under the law.

The law would provide health care to about 30 million uninsured people and make coverage more affordable to millions of others by expanding the reach of Medicaid, forbid insurance companies from refusing coverage to people with pre-existing illnesses and creating new subsidies. Officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law is called “Obamacare” by opponents, including Walker.

The Supreme Court, expected to rule on the law Thursday, could allow it to remain or strike down all or part of it. But the ruling is likely to signal only the next stage of the debate, not settle the issue, especially in states such as Wisconsin where Republicans control the governor’s office and legislature.

Picture of health

A look at the health care overhaul in Wisconsin

NUMBER OF UNINSURED: 526,000 state residents are uninsured, or about 9 percent.

WHERE THE STATE STANDS: Wisconsin has not begun setting up its health insurance exchange. Work on that was put on hold in January by Gov. Scott Walker, who wanted to await the Supreme Court’s decision.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW: Walker said before the ruling that regardless of the outcome, Wisconsin would not move forward with implementation until after the November elections. Walker hopes opponents of the health care law will win the presidency and take control of Congress and repeal it.

– Associated Press

Walker’s decision to wait until after the November election before doing anything makes sense, said state Assembly Health Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale.

“There’s no way we’re going to do anything between now and the elections anyway on this topic,” Stone said. “We owe it to business in this state, and our own economy, to have some clear direction.”

One of Walker’s first actions on the day he took office in January 2011 was to authorize Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to join the multistate lawsuit trying to block the law, which Congress passed in 2010.

“He’s on the far end of the spectrum in terms of trying to block the law and doing nothing to prepare for it,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a health care advocacy group that supports the law and expanding health insurance coverage.

Even if the court does as many predict and strikes down the mandate that everyone have health insurance, Kraig said other important changes, including the expansion of Medicaid and allowing young adults up to age 26 to remain on their parents plans, could remain.

“Wisconsin needs to be in position to take full advantage of this law,” he said.

State Rep. Jon Richards, the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Health Committee, said it’s a big mistake not for Wisconsin to move forward with implementing the health insurance exchange and other parts of the federal law.

“Wisconsin should be in charge of our own destiny with health care and the consumers in Wisconsin should get the benefits of the law no matter what happens in Washington,” Richards said.

Wisconsin, like many states, has done nothing to set up a health insurance exchange through which residents could choose among different plans to buy private insurance with taxpayer-provided assistance to cover the cost of premiums. The exchanges are designed to increase competition by requiring insurers to offer more plans and provide more information.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set a Nov. 16 deadline for states to submit plans for their health insurance exchanges, which must be in place by 2014. The federal government would step in and run exchanges in states that don’t have them.

Richards and Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach introduced a bill last year, supported by a host of consumer advocacy groups, that would have put major parts of the federal overhaul into state law, including the ban on denying coverage due to a pre-existing condition and removing annual and lifetime benefit caps.

The proposal went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Richards said it’s frustrating that the Walker administration has been blocking the changes and “frittered away” the opportunity to be proactive.

“It’s about political posturing,” Richards said.

Wisconsin has relatively few people without insurance coverage, thanks its popular BadgerCare programs that began under welfare reforms enacted by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in the late 1990s. The programs were expanded under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, but Walker scaled them back amid skyrocketing demand and state budget troubles.

Based on 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, 90.6 percent people in Wisconsin had insurance coverage. That tied with Maine for the third-highest rate of any state, after Hawaii at 92.3 percent and Massachusetts at 94.4 percent.
A spokeswoman for Walker’s Department of Health Services emphasized that Wisconsin was able to reach a high level of coverage without a federal mandate.

US health care reform efforts through history

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law comes after a century of debate over what role the government should play in helping people in the United States afford medical care. A look at the issue through the years:

1912: Former President Theodore Roosevelt champions national health insurance as he unsuccessfully tries to ride his progressive Bull Moose Party back to the White House.

1929: Baylor Hospital in Texas originates group health insurance. Dallas teachers pay 50 cents a month to cover up to 21 days of hospital care per year.

1935: President Franklin D. Roosevelt favors creating national health insurance amid the Great Depression but decides to push for Social Security first.

1942: Roosevelt establishes wage and price controls during World War II. Businesses can’t attract workers with higher pay so they compete through added benefits, including health insurance, which grows into a workplace perk.

1945: President Harry Truman calls on Congress to create a national insurance program for those who pay voluntary fees. The American Medical Association denounces the idea as “socialized medicine” and it goes nowhere.

1960: John F. Kennedy makes health care a major campaign issue but as president can’t get a plan for the elderly through Congress.

1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson’s legendary arm-twisting and a Congress dominated by his fellow Democrats lead to creation of two landmark government health programs: Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor.

1974: President Richard Nixon wants to require employers to cover their workers and create federal subsidies to help everyone else buy private insurance. The Watergate scandal intervenes.

1976: President Jimmy Carter pushes a mandatory national health plan, but economic recession helps push it aside.

1986: President Ronald Reagan signs COBRA, a requirement that employers let former workers stay on the company health plan for 18 months after leaving a job, with workers bearing the cost.

1988: Congress expands Medicare by adding a prescription drug benefit and catastrophic care coverage. It doesn’t last long. Barraged by protests from older Americans upset about paying a tax to finance the additional coverage, Congress repeals the law the next year.

1993: President Bill Clinton puts first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in charge of developing what becomes a 1,300-page plan for universal coverage. It requires businesses to cover their workers and mandates that everyone have health insurance. The plan meets Republican opposition, divides Democrats and comes under a firestorm of lobbying from businesses and the health care industry. It dies in the Senate.

1997: Clinton signs bipartisan legislation creating a state-federal program to provide coverage for millions of children in families of modest means whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid.

2003: President George W. Bush persuades Congress to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare in a major expansion of the program for older people.

2008: Hillary Rodham Clinton promotes a sweeping health care plan in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. She loses to Obama, who has a less comprehensive plan.

2009: Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress spend an intense year ironing out legislation to require most companies to cover their workers; mandate that everyone have coverage or pay a fine; require insurance companies to accept all comers, regardless of any pre-existing conditions; and assist people who can’t afford insurance.

2010: With no Republican support, Congress passes the measure, designed to extend health care coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people. Republican opponents scorned the law as “Obamacare.”

2012: On a campaign tour in the Midwest, Obama himself embraces the term “Obamacare” and says the law shows “I do care.”

– CONNIE CASS, Associated Press

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