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State needs answers to health care costs

Matt Pommer

The leading Republican gubernatorial candidates say they are opposed to the Health Care Reform Act recently passed by the Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama.

That’s just swell, but they should be telling us how they plan to handle state health issues connected to BadgerCare Plus, BadgerCare Core Plan, SeniorCare and Medicaid.

Approximately 1.1 million people, or one-fifth of Wisconsin residents, are covered by Medicaid or BadgerCare Plus. The programs are paid for through a combination of state and federal money.

The new governor will play a key role in determining health care in Wisconsin. Extended federal aid will run out in mid-2011, leaving coverage and financial questions to be decided in the state’s biennial state budget beginning July 1, 2011, and extending through June 30, 2013.

Republican candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann have pledged they want less government spending. There have been few specifics about how. Are the health issues on the chopping block?

The 1.1 million people covered by Medicaid or BadgerCare Plus are in addition to the senior citizens and disabled people in Wisconsin who receive their care through Medicare. While the 1.1 million nonseniors are low-income folks, the money flows to doctors, hospitals and health care providers.

Republicans of every stripe are running against the federal Health Care Reform Act. A key element, requiring everyone to have health insurance, won’t take effect until 2014. Meanwhile 21 states are challenging the constitutionality of the federal law.

The issue eventually will be decided by the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court, not the number of states involved in litigation. A Republican governor would seem to assure Wisconsin would join the legal challenge, but one more state won’t affect the legal outcome.

Perhaps it will be a replay of the 1930s, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of President Roosevelt’s recession-era New Deal programs. The easiest Republican answer on health care would be to return to the pre-Obama situation. President George W. Bush suggested the poor could always get health care by going to hospital emergency rooms.

With that approach, hospital emergency rooms will be busy places, and it would please many of us with health insurance. The poor ration their own health care if they face the emergency room sticker prices for care. That could help deliver on the pledges of lower taxes and less government.

The first tests will come with the next state budget. Wisconsin already is facing a $2.5 billion gap between projected spending and revenues. There are no signs the recession is likely to end in the near future.

The leading candidates for governor ought to explain — before the election — his plans on the health issues.

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