Marquette Wire

Riemer designs purchasing pool plan

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Hoping to stifle skyrocketing health care costs in Milwaukee, county executive hopeful David Riemer has unveiled a plan that, if he is elected, would allow employers in the county to form a purchasing pool for employee health insurance.

The plan, called the Milwaukee Employers Health Insurance Exchange, aims to drive down the cost of employee health insurance by stimulating competition among providers. Riemer said the cost decrease would result in an increase in the number of Milwaukee County citizens with insurance coverage.

Riemer, the former state budget director, faces incumbent Scott Walker in the race for county executive. The rising cost of health care at the city, county and state level has become a main issue dividing the two candidates, with Riemer blasting Walker for taking an "anti-plan" approach to county health care.

"I don't think (Walker) has any plan," Riemer said. The Milwaukee Employers Health Insurance Exchange would "drive down the terrible, punishing double-digit health care costs."

Milwaukee County is consistently ranked for having some of the highest health care costs in the nation, Riemer said.

"By putting an end to that we (will) encourage Milwaukee employers to keep jobs, and create a complete advantage for us" to attract job-seekers to the area, Riemer said.

The plan — which Riemer designed based on an economic model called "managed competition" devised by Stanford University professor Alain Enthoven — aims to reform health care by achieving three broad-range goals: improving public health, insuring those citizens who are uninsured and controlling health care costs.

Health care costs in Milwaukee County have increased nearly 25 percent during the past year alone, according to Riemer, while only increasing by about four percent and 10 percent at the city and state levels, respectively.

Under the exchange, health care plans would be classified into three tiers: tier I plans, which are ranked highest quality and lowest cost, and tier II and III plans, which are of lower quality and higher cost. According to the plan, employees would have an incentive to join tier I plans, forcing tier II and tier III plans to reduce their costs to compete with tier I plans.

Riemer said the exchange will offer employees "choices that cause the health care programs to compete, causing them to choose the plan that is high quality (and) low cost, and cause providers to lower their costs."

According to Walker campaign manager Jim Villa, Riemer's plan contains several components that would require out-of-jurisdiction intervention, including state and federal government. Villa said driving down health care costs in the county requires working collaboratively with the private sector.

Riemer's attacks on Walker's approach to health care "just show that once again David Riemer does not understand county government," Villa said.

In regards to health care plans for employees of the county, Villa said those plans are negotiated under contract for each employee. All but one of those contracts is up for review this year, Villa said.

Both Riemer and Villa agree that reduced health care costs result in increased job growth.

If elected, Riemer expects the plan to take three to six months for implementation.

Walker and Riemer face off in the general election in April.

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