Don't revive state's hospital tax plan
When the horse dies, the jockey is usually the first to notice. But, apparently, not in this case. So here's a warning to Senate Democrats trying to ride a state hospital tax to the finish line: You're beating an expired steed. Let the tax remain...
When the horse dies, the jockey is usually the first to notice. But, apparently, not in this case.
So here's a warning to Senate Democrats trying to ride a state hospital tax to the finish line: You're beating an expired steed.
Let the tax remain lifeless and move on to other issues.
A $418 million tax on hospitals, proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle and approved by the Senate, was dropped during state budget negotiations.
For good reason.
Some of the tax would have helped pay for state medical assistance to low-income people.
But at its core, the tax would have been nothing more than a scheme to bring in matching federal tax money to increase reimbursements to hospitals for treating poor patients.
So it amounted to a plan to rob Peter and rob Paul to pay back Peter.
Moreover, the tax would have been passed on to hospital patients in the form of higher bills, giving it the derogatory nickname of "the tax on the sick."
With families and businesses already struggling against high health care expenses, Wisconsin hardly needed a plan likely to send costs even higher. Furthermore, many observers expect Congress to eventually respond by limiting how much federal money states can get through such taxing tricks.
Then what would Wisconsin do?
Doyle offered to sunset the tax in two years. But once the state became dependent on the tax, ending it would have created more problems.
Wiser heads prevailed in budget negotiations to kill the hospital tax. The Assembly accepted the budget without the tax. The Senate accepted the budget without the tax. And the governor signed the budget without the tax.
But new Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, has announced that he wants to resurrect the tax.
Decker proposes to scrap the transfer of $200 million from the state's medical malpractice fund and replace it with the hospital tax scheme, which would yield even more money.
The raid on the malpractice fund was a mistake that risks leaving the fund on shaky financial ground. The fund, used to pay malpractice claims that exceed insurance limits, is financed by doctors and hospitals, not taxpayers.
The State Medical Society has responded by suing to block the raid.
Nonetheless, trading one mistake for another is no solution.
State Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, says he remains opposed to the hospital tax, so the Senate's support for the tax appears to be an exercise in futility as well as unsound policy.
After being nearly four months late with the state budget, the Legislature has a backlog of issues that need tending.
The hospital tax is not one of them.
The Senate should bury this horse.
-- Wisconsin State Journal
Copyright © 2007, The Wisconsin State Journal / Distributed by McClatchy-
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