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Health debate plays out in Capitol

By Matt Pommer

Democrats have rejected a Republican bid to push an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting the Legislature from “enactment of any law that requires any person to obtain or maintain health insurance coverage to participate in any health care system.”

State Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, wants a hearing so people can testify in opposition to the federal reform bill’s mandate that eventually everyone must have health insurance coverage. She does not suggest that a state constitutional amendment would have any actual effect on the new federal law.

“My fear is that the quality of health care will deteriorate in Wisconsin under the approved federal health-care bill,” she wrote in a recent column. “Wisconsin has some of the best doctors in the nation. Our high quality medical care is now in jeopardy and concerned citizens should be given the opportunity to be heard about the future ramifications of the new federal legislation.”

Wisconsin has dramatically increased health insurance coverage in recent months through the voluntary BadgerCare program. People are not required to participate, but a lot of people seem to like getting some insurance coverage.

Estimates of the percentage of the population covered by private health insurance or government programs tops 90 percent, and some suggest Wisconsin is second only to Massachusetts, where health insurance coverage has been mandated by state law.

At first blush, it would seem that doctors, hospitals and medical providers should like a higher percentage of patients with health insurance. It would seem to mean less charity care and a better cash flow for them.

It does not seem the trend would put quality medical care provided by physicians and hospitals “in jeopardy.”

Republicans also want Wisconsin to join the multistate lawsuit asking the federal courts to rule the new federal reform law is unconstitutional. That won’t happen either, but there is sufficient legal talent from other states making the challenge. Federal constitutional challenges usually take years to wind through the court system.

Lazich does a service in raising issues about the effect on state budgeting, not by the new federal law but by actions taken by the Democrats in the state Capitol. It ought to be a major topic for the legislative and gubernatorial election campaigns.

Other potential political health care topics include the extent of state regulation, including the possible purchase of policies sold in other states. Health coverage for public employees always factors into labor negotiations and state budgeting.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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