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November 1, 2007

A Column of Personal Opinion
By State Senator Sheila Harsdorf

Health Co-Ops Offer Opportunities

The Farmers Health Cooperative, launched last April, is the nation€™s first statewide health care program that enables the collective bargaining of its members to lower health care costs and deliver better benefits. A recent article by the Associated Press highlighted how farm families statewide are benefiting.

Health cooperatives are voluntary, private-market initiatives that enable individuals to join together to negotiate better benefits, premiums and deductibles. Regional health cooperatives to serve small businesses and the self-employed have formed in Green Bay and Milwaukee. Over the next several months, I plan on using the insight I have gained as a board member of the Farmers Health Cooperative to explore the interest and potential of small businesses in western Wisconsin utilizing such a cooperative model.

Legislation that I co-authored in 2003 facilitated the creation of health cooperatives. Members join together, relatively free of politics and government intrusion, to build pools that leverage their buying power while focusing on prevention to lower costs. These new health cooperatives are now getting national attention.

Some are advocating a state government takeover of health care which relies on government mandating and managing insurance pools. However, a state mandated government-run health care program adds new double-digit payroll taxes, breeds consumer inequities, and jeopardizes health care choice and quality. When government takes complete control, competition to control costs and voluntary enrollment to ensure choice are sacrificed. I think this is the wrong direction, especially when there are better alternatives.

For example, BadgerCare Plus, enacted last week in Wisconsin, is smart reform that will provide health insurance access to 98% of Wisconsin residents, the highest in the nation. As the most sweeping revision of the family portion of Medicaid since 1967, BadgerCare Plus streamlines current health insurance programs for low-income families and uses savings to expand access. As importantly, it is a voluntary program to be used as a safety net; not a big government solution.

If you are interested in learning more about health care cooperatives or BadgerCare Plus, send me an email to or call me at 1-800-862-1092.