Referendum will ask voters if they favor universal health insurance

by Lesley Politi on November 3, 2008

Referendum will ask voters if they favor universal health insurance

of the Northwestern

Like several communities across Wisconsin, a health care advisory referendum is on the ballot in Oshkosh on Tuesday.

The advisory referendum will ask this: “Shall the state legislature enact health care reform legislation by Dec. 31, 2009 that guarantees to every Wisconsin resident affordable coverage as good as what is provided to state legislators.”

Citizens Action of Wisconsin, an advocacy group, spearheaded the effort to get the referendum on the ballot in Oshkosh, as well as 21 other communities across the state, with 32,000 people signing a petition to back the referendum.

“The point of the referendum is to bring as much attention to the state of health care here in Wisconsin as possible,” said Robert Kraig, director of programs for Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

Earlier this week, Citizens’ Action released a report on the cost of health insurance premiums in cities throughout the state.

The Third Annual Health Insurance Cost Ranking report ranked Oshkosh second among cities seeing the highest percentage increase in health insurance premiums over the past decade. Oshkosh’s premiums have risen 171 percent since 2000 and the top ranked city, Green Bay, saw a 262 percent increase, Kraig said.

“Northeast Wisconsin used to have the cheapest insurance. Now northeast Wisconsin is really at a disadvantage,” he said.

Oshkosh ranks seventh among cities with the highest health insurance costs, with a single person in Oshkosh paying $615.14 per month in insurance premiums. Eau Claire came in highest, with residents paying $659.97 on their monthly premiums.

Comparably, health insurance costs in Madison are much lower where, unlike other cities in Wisconsin, competition helps drive down prices, Kraig said. According to the report, there is a 22 percent cost difference between the amount people in Eau Claire pay compared to those in Madison — the lowest-ranked metro area.

“It looks like the cost discrepancy has to do with the structure of the health insurance market and the provider market in general,” he said. “The fundamental difference between Madison is there are competing health care providers there that compete on cost and quality. That type of market isn’t functioning in the rest of the state.”

As for the referendum, David Seimers, political science professor for UW-Oshkosh, says he doesn’t doubt there will be an overwhelming response of those voting in favor of it. He said its in essence asking voters to OK universal health care.

“Every time people are asked this question, they respond, ‘Yes, we would like to have health care for everyone,’” Seimers said.

But he says that doesn’t mean it will create much, or any, change in the amount people pay on their premiums here in Wisconsin. And it doesn’t address a bigger issue: How much that change would cost.

“It isn’t much more than a poll. And it’s a poll that doesn’t deal with the full complexity of the issue—it doesn’t deal with the cost and that’s a huge factor,” Seimers said.

“It’s basically a public relations campaign on the behalf of their cause,” he added.


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