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Wis. Governor Signs Health Insurance Bill - AP Online

ROBERT IMRIE, Associated Press Writer
AP Online
12-12-2003
Dateline: WAUSAU, Wis.
Thousands of farm families, small business owners and self-employed workers in Wisconsin are now eligible for a new program to help them get affordable health insurance.

Gov. Jim Doyle signed legislation into law Thursday that creates five regional health insurance purchasing cooperatives with the power to pool individuals to negotiate directly with health insurance providers and collectively bargain for cheaper coverage.

Wisconsin farmers face a health care crisis, already paying three times as much for their health insurance as salaried employees working for a company, Doyle said.

'I don't think anyone believes this will be the absolutely perfect answer, but it will provide some help,' Doyle said before signing the legislation.

'We can raise prices and productivity of our farmers, but it won't matter if increased profits just go to cover rising health care premiums or if farms go under because our farmers can't afford health care coverage for their families,' he said.

The governor said some Wisconsin farmers pay $1,900 a month for health insurance premiums that include a $2,500 annual deductible.

'It is no wonder 25 percent of Wisconsin farmers have no health insurance coverage at all,' Doyle said.

About 50 people watched the signing ceremony at FCS Financial Services, a member-owned cooperative that provides loans and other services to agricultural customers and home owners.

The legislation, based on a successful Minnesota program, was approved by both the Senate and Assembly in November.

Bill Oemichen, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, a primary advocate of the legislation, said each purchasing cooperative must have at least 5,000 members.

It's believed the new alliances can negotiate health insurance policies that lower the premiums on average at least 10 percent and perhaps as much as 35 percent compared with what the individuals and their families now pay, Oemichen said.

The biggest advantage will come in lower annual deductibles on the policies, perhaps to $250 to $500, he said.

The first policies could be in place by next summer, Oemichen said.

Wayne Corey, executive director of Wisconsin Independent Businesses, predicted the change Doyle signed into law would stabilize health insurance costs and revitalize many small businesses, enhance their profitability and make more money available for employee raises and other benefits.

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