Julie Sneider
View from the Waiting Room

Walker camp vague on health care

By - Sep 6th, 2010 04:00 am

Photos courtesy Scott Walker for Governor via Flickr

As governor, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker likely would take a hands-off approach to state government doing much to fix the health care system.

On his campaign website, Walker describes his stance on health care in three paragraphs, calling for “market-based solutions like competition, transparency and tax incentives.” The website and his statements in press accounts go into little detail beyond those generalities.

Walker campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader responded in an e-mail to ThirdCoast Digest’s request for specifics by saying that Walker will release his health care policy agenda “soon.”

“His plan will focus on reducing costs for all Wisconsinites while protecting the quality and access that we enjoy now,” Bader said. “Scott’s plan will focus on proven solutions that keeps decision-making between patients and their doctors. It will require greater flow of information to patients, changing the perverse incentives that drive costs up, and reforming our safety net programs to eliminate waste and abuse while maintaining coverage for the truly needy.”

This summer, Walker did lay out one specific example of how local governments and Wisconsin school districts could save as much as $300 million in annual health care costs by switching to the state employee health care plan. But Republican challenger Mark Neumann and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett were both quick to criticize Walker’s proposal, claiming they proposed similar ideas long ago.

Although Bader did not give specifics on Walker’s views, his statements in press releases, media interviews, candidate debates and on his website indicate that he, like Neumann, strongly opposes the federal health care reform law passed earlier this year.

Walker has said he agrees with State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s desire to join other states in a lawsuit to stop the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional. Shortly after President Obama signed the new law, Walker issued a press release saying that as governor he will “support and sign legislation outlining Wisconsin’s intent to opt out if possible, support candidates for federal office who will vote to repeal this federal mandate, and review all other legal options to put the brakes on this legislation.”

However, Walker’s words on health care are at times inconsistent with his actions. Late last week, it was revealed that while the candidate for governor has been calling for the health care law’s demise, his Milwaukee County administration applied for benefits under the new law’s Early Retiree Reinsurance Program.

The program provides $5 million in financial assistance to employers and unions to help maintain coverage for early retirees over the age of 55 who don’t yet qualify for Medicare coverage. Last week, the federal government announced the first round of employers that will get those benefits — and Milwaukee County was one of 53 approved in Wisconsin.

Walker also caught some flak this summer following an August debate with Neumann in which both candidates called for trimming BadgerCare, the state health care plan for working families. That program, started in 1997 by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, was created in part to cover low-income working families who didn’t qualify for Medicaid but also didn’t earn enough income to afford private insurance. The program was later expanded to offer coverage to all Wisconsin children through age 19, regardless of parents’ income.

Walker was in the state Legislature when BadgerCare was created and he voted for it. But in last month’s debate with Neumann, Walker said that BadgerCare was supposed to be a temporary plan and should have time limits on coverage. A few days later, after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out that BadgerCare was not created as a temporary plan and that Walker spoke in error, Walker appeared to back away from his call for BadgerCare time limits and instead said he supported tightening the health plan’s income eligibility. Currently, more than 700,000 Wisconsin residents rely on BadgerCare for coverage.

Finally, should he win the primary, Walker will get continued heat over his slow response to the patient care crisis at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. Barrett, who faces only nominal challenges in the Democratic primary, has slammed Walker for not acting quickly enough to remove the complex administrator after a Journal Sentinel series revealed that patients were sexually assaulted by a patient who was allowed to roam freely in the hospital despite a history of violence.

Regardless of who wins the Republican primary on Sept. 14, health care no doubt will be a hot topic in the race for governor. Stay tuned.

0 thoughts on “View from the Waiting Room: Walker camp vague on health care”

  1. Anonymous says:

    word on the street is Walker has some mental health problems to deal with.

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