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Richland Hospital hosts Health Care Challenges Forum

Richland Hospital hosts Health Care Challenges Forum

“We all do well when we all do well” (Sen. Paul Wellstone) was the closing message of Dr. Neil Bard, at Sunday’s Richland County Health Care Forum.  Dr. Bard began practicing medicine at the Richland Medical Center in 1980.  At the time, the only place under and uninsured citizens could go for needed medical attention was the Emergency Room where, because of federal law, they cannot be turned away. This is the most expensive place to seek medical attention, and all taxpayers end up paying for this service when those unable to pay use the service.  In addition, the Emergency Room service is an in-and-out service that cannot address preventive and continuous care. His concerns regarding these issues led him to create and direct the Richland Center Free Clinic in 2008. This program, which is open one day a week, provides free medical services for qualifying patients from doctors, nurses, and volunteers who donate their time and talents to this cause. Although this program provides an avenue for care previously unavailable to low-income individuals, Dr. Bard considers it only a temporary, partial fix and hopes for the day when the clinic can close.  To do that, however, federal and state action is needed to provide universal healthcare as a right for all citizens.

Dr. Mark Neumann, a recently retired La Crosse pediatrician, followed Dr. Bard’s presentation by listing the advantages and benefits of a single payer, publicly funded, universal, comprehensive healthcare program available to all Americans. Dr. Neumann presented data regarding the cost of healthcare in the U.S. which is the highest of all other developed countries - without providing commensurate results.  For instance, the U.S. has the highest infant mortality rates and the highest rate of maternal mortality.  In addition, in our system of healthcare, the administrative costs far exceed the actual cost of the healthcare itself.  A single payer system would cut out the middle-man and the for-profit based insurance industry which is solely beholding to its shareholders rather than the needs of premium paying customers. As a result of our current system, healthcare expenses are the number one cause of bankruptcies in this country.  Dr. Neumann’s closing message was “we can and must do better.”

Kevin Kane of Citizens Action Wisconsin discussed the impact of the proposed Medicaid expansion proposed by Gov. Evers in his 2019-2021 budget.  Expansion of Medicaid would result in an influx of $8 million of federal funds to Richland County alone, and $2.4 billion in additional healthcare funding statewide.  Details of the benefits to Richland County as a result of Medicaid expansion can be found at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website.  This expansion would provide additional low-income people with consistent, affordable healthcare keeping them out of Emergency Rooms where costs are eventually dispersed to all taxpayers.  States that have accepted Medicaid expansion have also experienced reduced insurance premiums for those on private insurance.

Mr. Kane reported that Wisconsin is one of only 14 states who have refused to accept this expansion provided through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also known as “Obama Care.” Refusing this expansion is an extra burden on Wisconsin taxpayers since our federal tax dollars are available to be used by other states who have accepted this expansion. Under Gov. Evers proposal, the state money that is currently ear-marked for healthcare would be replaced by available ACA money. Hundreds of millions of state tax dollars could then be made available for education, roads, the environment, water quality, and many other important necessities.

This forum was designed as informational and nonpartisan, but in the end, the immediate issue is a political one to accept Medicaid expansion or not.  According to Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Dane), it is extremely unlikely that the state legislature will accept Medicaid expansion in the current budget.  State Senator Howard Marklein, and State Representatives Travis Tranel, Tony Kurtz and Todd Novak were invited to attend to represent their position on Medicaid expansion, but were not present and did not send any staff. It would have been helpful to hear their position on the state of healthcare funding in the state.

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