The U.S. Senate is in recess for Independence Day, but for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., it’s most definitely a working vacation.
Waiting on his desk in Washington, D.C., is a health care bill which Johnson’s colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., described as “a huge tax cut for the rich, on the backs of poor, elderly, disabled, children and veterans.”
Johnson wouldn’t agree with that description, but he also was one of the first to say that the measure, as proposed, shouldn’t go to a vote — at least not until the July 4 recess is over.
The main problem with the Senate health care bill as proposed, Johnson said, is that it doesn’t solve a key problem with the Affordable Care Act — the volatility and rapid rise of health care costs.
“We’ve got a big mess in our health care,” Johnson said during a stop Friday morning at the Iron Skillet restaurant at the Petro Travel Plaza, just outside of Portage on Highway 78.
“And,” Johnson added, “it’s a complex mess.”
Johnson said he believes President Donald Trump is “fully engaged” in the discussion of repealing and replacing the act informally known as Obamacare.
He’d say that he, too, is doing everything he can to be in the room where the health care debate happens.
The ACA’s requirement that insurance companies cover people who have pre-existing conditions, Johnson said, is the key reason why costs on the health care market are skyrocketing.
“We’ve completely screwed up the individual marketplace,” he said.
Yet the dilemma that Johnson says needs to be resolved is to make sure that people with pre-existing conditions can obtain and afford health insurance, without forcing young, healthy, able-bodied people to shoulder the lion’s share of the cost.
Johnson said he envisions something similar to Wisconsin’s Health Insurance Risk Sharing Plan, which was for about 30 years the state’s resource for people who either had lost their health benefits, experienced cuts in benefits or who had been repeatedly rejected by insurers, due to a health condition, such as AIDS, that was deemed “high risk.” HIRSP ceased to exist when ACA was put into place and insurers were required to cover pre-existing conditions.
Under HIRSP, the premiums paid by HIRSP-insured people paid 60 percent of the program’s cost, with the rest of the funding coming from assessments paid by Wisconsin health insurance companies and reductions in reimbursement to HIRSP-certified health care providers.
If a high-risk pool is part of the Senate’s health care bill, Johnson said he would like to see the pool funded in such a way that it would not pose such a large burden on the insured, nor on insurance companies. Almost certainly, government-funded subsidies would have to come into play in some form, he said.
What has to change, he said, is the higher costs that low-risk patients pay to cover the actual costs of covering people with pre-existing conditions.
“Don’t make a small percentage of people pay for high-risk health care,” he said.
Johnson – who was on his way from his home in Oshkosh to events in southwest Wisconsin on Friday – said he’s also spending a lot of time on issues such as tax reform, prevention of foreign terrorism and border security.
Johnson was chief executive officer of PACUR, an Oshkosh firm that makes plastic sheeting for packaging and printing, when he was first elected to the Senate in 2010. Last year he won re-election, in a rematch with the man whom he had defeated in 2010, former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin.
He acknowledged that work in the legislative branch of the federal government is not the same as running a business, but there are business skills – such as solving problems – that he brings to the job.
When it comes to the Senate in general and the health care measure in particular, Johnson said, “Whatever we do here isn’t going to be perfect, but it is going to be better.”