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Thursday, February 25, 2010

 12:26 PM 

Debate begins on BadgerCare Basic

A public health insurance option meant as a stopgap for 25,000 state residents on a waiting list for BadgerCare Plus Core plan is unnecessary, Senate Republicans said today.

BadgerCare Basic, is designed to be paid for through enrollee premiums, set at $130 per month.

Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, tried to get the bill sent back to Senate Organization, saying the program is not needed.

Fitzgerald said private sector insurance companies already offer low-cost, limited benefit plans, and a public program would hinder the private industries ability to provide that coverage. For those denied private coverage, there's the state's Health Insurance Risk Sharing Plan, he said.

He also said that there could be unseen cost overruns. Gov. Jim Doyle's office insists there won't be any additional burden on taxpayers, though Republicans have been skeptical.

"If state actuarial studies are wrong, then Wisconsin taxpayers are on the hook," Fitzgerald said.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said if private insurance companies have a plan to match the Basic proposal, they should be covering the people on the waiting list.

"If insurance companies would underwrite these 25,000 people we wouldn't be here today on this issue," Erpenbach said. "They don't underwrite these people because they don't have to."

Erpenbach noted the average HIRSP premium is $466 per month.

Fitzgerald said the reason there is a waiting list of 25,000 is that the state had to shut down enrollment in the BadgerCare Plus Core plan because demand exceeded funding.

"They applied and the state said 'Sorry, we can't take you,'" Fitzgerald said. "And now you're out here saying these people weren't served somehow."

Erpenbach countered that it wasn't the state that shut down enrollment, it was a federal requirement that the program be cost neutral. He said the waiting list materialized "over night."

"I don't know why that doesn't tell you there's a major league crisis with health insurance out there," Erpenbach said.

Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said legislators enjoy a "very rich" health insurance plan.

"I can't believe those of you who have insurance would be denying at least 25,000 people in this state from having health insurance. Walk a day in their shoes."

"You have insurance. Why don't you let them have it?"

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said the state is inserting itself into a private market.

"We are now going to be the board of directors of an insurance company," he said.

Olsen said the $1 million the state set aside from a federal grant to absorb cost overruns will likely not be enough to cover the liability the state is exposing itself to under the program.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said the program is another "false promise" from state government, and will result in a "major cost shift" to private insurance rate payers throughout the state.

"We're all going to have to pay the bills," she said.

Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, accused Republicans of turning a blind eye to those who need help.

Fitzgerald said the proposal is reflective of national Democrats who are "overreaching" on health care.

"This is ObamaCare, that's what this is," he said, warning that government meddling will kill the private insurance system.

"This is an absolute vote in favor of government-run health care," Fitzgerald said.

Dems scoffed at Republican pleas that they want more time to study the issue and come up with a better proposal.

"If you vote to send this back to committee you are voting to kill this," Erpenbach said.

UPDATE: 1:59 p.m. The motion to return the bill to committee fails on a party-line vote, 18-15.

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