THE BLOG
04/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Washington Should Look to Wisconsin for Answer to Health Care Reform

America is home to the best medical technology and best doctors in the world. Unfortunately, their services are a luxury that many Americans cannot afford. Our country pays more for its health care and gets less than any other developed country in the world. According to rankings compiled by the World Health Organization, the U.S. ranks 37th in overall health care - just behind Costa Rica and one spot above Slovenia.

More than 46 million Americans lack access to basic medical insurance, clogging our emergency rooms and driving up costs for those lucky enough to have coverage. Health care remains one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in our country.

I applaud President Obama for having the courage to take on this crisis, even during these tough economic times. It is not only the right thing to do, it makes fiscal sense. Unless we reform this broken system we will continue to saddle our children and grandchildren with increasing debt.

I am honored that President Obama selected me, along with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, to co-host the first in a series of Regional White House Forums on Health Reform.

It is important that any meaningful attempt at reform includes measures to cut costs. But we must not forget the 46 million Americans who, today, lack access to basic health insurance. Even during this tight budget, there are paths available to Washington for universal health care access. All they need to do is examine what states like Wisconsin have done through our national leading BadgerCare Plus program.

While many states are cutting back on health care programs, here in Wisconsin we are moving forward, expanding access to health care at an unprecedented rate. In February 2008, we ensured that every child in our state has access to affordable health insurance. In July, we will provide 98 percent of our residents with health care coverage by expanding BadgerCare Plus to low income individuals that don't have dependent children. When it's complete, we'll have the second largest percentage of residents insured of any state.

In both cases, we built upon existing successful programs. Simplification and cost-effectiveness drove our efforts.

Often, complex programs deter individuals from enrolling. In Wisconsin, we have cut bureaucracy and shortened our BadgerCare Plus application form to one page. We also now accept more than 30 percent of our applications online.

In addition, we have shown creativity in controlling costs while expanding access.

First, to fund our expansion to low income adults, we are reallocating uncompensated care payments to hospitals. The program utilizes a limited benefit package that strongly encourages preventive care and the use of generic drugs.

Second, since 2002, our innovative SeniorCare program has been providing 90,000 seniors low cost prescription drugs at less than half the cost of Medicare Part D. By using the state's leverage to negotiate the lowest prices for prescription drugs, we save taxpayers more than $90 million per year.

Third, we've reduced costs and improved quality by pushing forward on health information technology.

Finally, we've saved our state Medicaid program an average of $450 per person each month by expanding FamilyCare, our long-term care program. Through FamilyCare, we've been able to reduce costs by transferring seniors and people with disabilities out of nursing homes and into appropriate home and community-based care settings.

Here in Wisconsin, we have shown that the moral issue of health care -- the crisis of the uninsured -- is something we can successfully address. We look forward to working with federal policymakers to make basic, affordable health care a reality for all Americans.