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Business owners, public speak out on need for health care reform

July 2, 2009
In The News

Mickey Judkins has nine employees for her women's clothing business in Eau Claire. She can afford to pay health insurance for only two of them; the others have to rely on coverage from spouses' plans.

Jim Meyers owns an auto parts business in Eau Claire and has seen costs to insure his employees increase 20 percent per year in recent years.

As a small-business owner, he can't get the rates that large retailers with multiple stores receive.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said while small businesses create 80 percent of new jobs, those that try to provide health insurance for their employees face the highest rates.

Kind hosted a panel discussion on health care reform Wednesday afternoon at the Eau Claire County Courthouse. The panel included health care professionals and small-business owners.

Kind said he supports a national health insurance exchange that would create a place for individuals and small employers to choose between public and private insurers. It would include a public option that would be financed entirely through its premiums.

Kind also supports a guarantee, for both public and private insurance, in which people could not be denied coverage because of pre-existing health conditions.

Some in the standing-room-only audience said health savings accounts, caps on insurance settlements for malpractice and deregulating insurance companies are the keys to reducing health care costs. They asked how Kind intended to vote on a health care proposal by the Obama administration that could increase public coverage.

Kind said it was too early to comment on the president's plan. "There isn't a bill drafted yet," he said.

Others noted Wisconsin has capped insurance payouts, which may have made it easier to recruit doctors to the state, but it hasn't necessarily led to affordable health care.

Jo Rudrud, 56, an Eau Claire paralegal, said she wasn't thinking about insurance when she moved from a bigger company that provided insurance as a benefit to a smaller company. Then she found she had a pre-existing heart condition.

"I'm uninsurable. I've been told that many times," she said. Rudrud is going without health care. "I'm crossing my fingers," she said.

Randall Linton, Luther Midelfort president and chief executive, said the way health care providers are paid does not encourage good health care.

"We're paid not on our outcomes; we're paid based on quantity," he said. "We pay providers as individuals. We don't pay them as a member of a team working together."

Linton said a Dartmouth College study found a threefold difference in health care costs across the country, and that costs were not related to outcomes. Areas with the best outcomes at lower costs included Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, where medical care is more of a team approach, he said.

Linton said arguing about whether health care is paid for by a private company or the government isn't health reform. "Real reform doesn't mean changing who writes the checks," he said.

Paying all providers less also is not reform, Linton said. That penalizes the providers that already are the most efficient.

Mike Conlin of Eau Claire said one reason private insurance costs are so high is because Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements to Wisconsin care providers are too low and the costs are shifted. Conlin said he pays into health savings accounts for his employees with pre-tax dollars, and he believes his workers use that money more carefully for prescriptions and medical costs.