Friday, October 15, 2010

Financial Relief Coming To Milwaukee County, or How Scott Walker Learned to Love Health Care Reform

From Milwaukee County First:

Last Friday, Senator Russ Feingold announced that several companies, unions and governmental bodies were to receive early retiree assistance in their health care costs via part of the health care reform. Milwaukee County is among the beneficiaries of this program.

The program is called the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program and was created through the Affordable Care Act. According to the site, the program works like this:

Businesses, other employers, and unions that are accepted into the program will receive reimbursement for medical claims for early retirees and their spouses, surviving spouses, and dependents. Savings can be used to reduce employer health care costs, provide premium relief to workers and families, or both. Applicants who are approved into the program receive reinsurance for the claims of high-cost retirees and their families (80 percent of the costs from $15,000 to $90,000). The program ends on January 1, 2014 when State health insurance Exchanges are up and running.

Because of the recent nature of this good news, the exact numbers of how much money this will mean for Milwaukee County is not known. However, it is safe to say that the amount could be quite substantial.

According to a report from the Public Policy Forum (pdf, page 33), which was written in January of this year, 35% of all Milwaukee County retirees, or 2,091 people were considered early retirees. That number has risen since then, as many county employees who were active employees at the time of the report have since retired, in order to avoid losing any benefits either through contract negotiations or due to the excessive amount of furloughs that Scott Walker had imposed on them.

The same report points out that the out of control skyrocketing price of health care coverage is the biggest contributor to the county’s current fiscal emergency.

While the relief money will not be enough to fill the gaping hole in Walker’s budget, this does go a long way in helping.

Milwaukee County First thanks President Barack Obama and Senator Russ Feingold for passing the health care bill and granting this much needed relief to Milwaukee County.

And despite his charade of being against health care reform, we applaud Scott Walker for pursuing and attaining this relief funding.

However, it is unfortunate that Walker cannot even do this good thing without making it into a political game. Apparently, he has not even informed the County Board, much less the public, of this good news. One can only speculate at his reasons for not doing so, but it most likely has something to do with his political aspirations.

But when the Board is struggling to bring some sense and balance to his illegal budget, it is highly irresponsible for him to withhold this information from them. In this slowly recovering economy, when the county is facing a most bleak fiscal future where some are even calling for it to be allowed to go into bankruptcy, information like this is not only very welcome, but essential to minimizing the damage.

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