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Health care on the Senate trail

By Matt Pommer

The Affordable Health Care Act, which the GOP has dubbed Obamacare, is a likely candidate for discussion among the three Republicans running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by incumbent Herb Kohl.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann want to repeal the act, which requires the purchase of health insurance and is being tested this month in the U.S Supreme Court.

Thompson’s GOP opponents are sure to mention that, as a member of the Bush cabinet, he was the person who gave the federal go-ahead to the health care plan in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor.

If the high court strikes down the law, the health care debate will take a different turn. Will our three U.S. Senate candidates have a uniform response? The issues include Medicare, Medicaid and care for citizens not in the two programs.

A central issue for Medicare is whether to move back the coverage starting point, which is now age 65.

Of course, there always is the question of what seniors must pay out of their own pockets for care.

Medicaid is the state-federal program of care that largely covers children, the disabled and the poor. It’s important to remember the money flows not to these folks but to the professionals who provide the care.

One approach would be for the federal government to send a block grant to each state and allow the 50 legislatures to divide the money. Backers of that idea suggest it as a way to solve large federal deficits.

Many who get health insurance through work are finding larger deductions and higher co-payments as health care costs rise.

Thompson’s answers on health care should draw national attention. The former governor served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services during George W. Bush’s first term in the White House.

Thompson clearly understands the problems in health care and insurance. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid were part of his agency. Given that knowledge and experience, Thompson is in a perfect spot to spell out a visionary approach for America’s health coverage.

The voters deserve more, especially from Thompson, than just criticism of Obamacare or whether health insurance should be required to cover contraceptives.

Republican candidates like to assail the federal budget deficit and link it to health issues. But we ought to ask Thompson, Fitzgerald and Neumann if they would support higher taxes if we go to war with Iran.

Or would they just reduce health spending?

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

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