Special Interests Deny Treatment To Ailing Health Care System

July 23 2007

Madison - Why are Republican legislators and Democratic Governor Jim Doyle so reluctant to even discuss major changes to make health care more affordable and accessible when their constituents have cited it as one of their top priorities?

Just follow the money.

Wealthy special interests that oppose a universal health care system – like the one in the Senate Democrats’ proposed 2007-09 state budget – have contributed nearly $2 of every $3 raised in the past four election cycles by Republicans who control the Assembly, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

And, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, who does not support the Senate’s health care plan, accepted 48 percent of his large individual and political action committee contributions from 1999 through 2006 from special interests that oppose the plan.

The Assembly GOP, which removed the Senate health care plan from its version of the budget, accepted $4.4 million from 1999-2006 from special interests that oppose universal health care or who are members of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group which opposes it. Those interests include manufacturers, business, hospitals, health maintenance organizations, insurance, agriculture, banking, transportation, telecommunications, restaurant and utility interests.

Assembly Republicans raised a total $6.9 million from all special interests during the period.

The $4.4 million those contributors gave the Assembly’s 52 Republicans is 3.5 times more than the $1.3 million those special interests gave the Assembly’s 47 Democrats during the past four two-year election cycles.

In addition, the Senate Democrats’ health care plan also is opposed by two conservative ideological organizations – Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax and government spending group, and Wisconsin Family Action which supported the so-called marriage protection amendment to the state constitution on the November 2006 ballot. Wisconsin Family Action gave $81,411 to another group to pay for advertising and other activities to support the amendment. The group also engaged in secret issue ad spending in a hotly contested Assembly race where it sent a postcard to voters showing two men wearing tuxedoes and proclaiming the Democratic candidate opposed the amendment.

Doyle, who was asked in late June if he supported the Senate’s comprehensive health care plan and responded “I live in the real world,” has accepted $7.3 million of his total $15.2 million in large individual and PAC contributions from special interests that also oppose the plan. The budget proposal Doyle gave to the Legislature contained an expansion of the state’s BadgerCare health program to cover more low-income residents.

Most special interests and public officials who oppose universal health care favor tax deductible health savings accounts, measures to make health care costs more accessible so people can shop and compare and other so-called market-based changes to lower health care costs.

In many cases these wealthy special interests, particularly the insurance industry, oppose major health care reform mainly because it will cost them money. In other cases, groups representing special interests, like WMC and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, would lose out because they sell insurance.

The state’s largest teachers union and WMC’s chief rival, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, favors the Senate Democrats’ health plan even though WEAC provides health insurance to most of the state’s school districts. The plan does not force unions to participate so teachers can still negotiate with school districts for the health care plan they want at taxpayer expense.

WDC did not include doctors and other health professionals as special interests that oppose the Senate health care plan because the groups that represent them have not said where they stand on it. Health professionals led by doctors contributed nearly $1.8 million to Doyle and the Legislature from 1999-2006. For instance, the Wisconsin Medical Society, which is the doctors’ lobby group, appears more concerned about doctors’ pocketbooks than accessible, affordable health care. The group’s big goal in the proposed budget is to prevent Doyle from removing $175 million from a state fund that gives doctors multi-million dollar malpractice coverage.