Health care exchanges critical for Wisconsin farmers, rural communitiesThere’s been a lot of hubbub regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Wisconsin Farmers Union supports the Supreme Court’s decision because it is good for our farm families, rural neighbors and all Americans.
By: By Darin Von Ruden, Superior Telegram
There’s been a lot of hubbub regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Wisconsin Farmers Union supports the Supreme Court’s decision because it is good for our farm families, rural neighbors and all Americans. Though the law is far from perfect, it is a huge step in the right direction for family farmers and rural communities to get access to dependable, affordable health care.
The decision to uphold the individual mandate keeps the Affordable Care Act intact. It is critical to protecting reforms significant to our members. Support for health care exchange programs for the self-employed who can’t afford expensive care in the individual market, resources for rural health care providers and incentives to physicians serving rural areas. The Act prevents health insurance companies from denying care based on pre-existing conditions, and closes the Medicare prescription drug coverage “doughnut hole.”
There has been a lot of misinformation regarding the Affordable Care Act. The bottom line is that a lot more people will be able to acquire and afford health insurance. Statewide, about 340,000 people will be able to get health insurance — about half through exchanges and half through Medicaid expansion.
Health Care Exchanges are critical for Wisconsin’s farmers and rural communities.
Rural residents often have the hardest time getting health insurance because they are predominately self-employed and run small businesses, with insurance costs too high because of small risk pools. They often pay way too much for terrible coverage. Some are uninsurable because of the high-risk nature of farming. Many can’t pay high premiums for the current system of individual and family coverage. Exchanges will broaden risk pools for these people and bring down costs of insurance and health care dollars spent.
Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, already introduced a bill last year — the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) — to establish a uniquely Wisconsin health insurance exchange. It has sat without even a committee hearing since last fall. This bill needs to move forward to help individuals, farmers and small businesses. The Walker administration is saying it will not pursue implementing Health Care Exchanges until either after the November election — in hopes the act will be repealed or until the federal government makes them mandatory in 2014.
The bill seeks to make the buying groups as strong as possible, by expanding the group to as many employers as allowed by federal law — so all employers with 100 employees or less. The bill also creates a separate exchange for all people who now buy insurance on their own. This is huge for our family farmers.
In essence, the SHOP bill gives small groups big buying power so you are no longer buying insurance just for yourself or small business. It also helps people find out if they are eligible for tax credits or other programs like BadgerCare. It establishes a competitive marketplace where private insurers compete for business and requires accurate and simple comparison of plans, including information about medical performance, price and benefits.
It’s disappointing, to say the least, that our legislative majority would be dragging their feet on getting this done. I can’t imagine why any of them would want to wait on this. Creating our own state exchanges keeps the control in Wisconsin. And a whole lot of the work has already been done. There’s already a good bill to consider.
There are three major problems with waiting. First, our uninsured and underinsured rural families are tired of waiting. Are tired of worrying that they can’t afford medical help if they get sick or injured. Are tired of worrying that they could lose their farms if someone gets really sick.
Second, we should be creating our own Wisconsin Exchange plan and not wait for a blanket-style federal exchange program that may not work as well for us.
Third, waiting to create these desperately needed exchanges in order to score some sort of political points is astonishing — reprehensible, really. And waiting also is against the law.
Every American deserves health care that is comprehensive, affordable and accessible, regardless of occupation or geographic area.
Wisconsin Farmers Union commends the Supreme Court on its decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This is an important step to bringing necessary health care reform to our farmers, rural communities, and all Americans.
Last, we now call on Gov. Scott Walker and our state leaders to begin work immediately on creating Wisconsin health care exchanges. Our members and friends can’t wait.
Darin Von Ruden of Westby, Wis., is president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.