Monday, September 22, 2008

Health Care Reform and Women's Issues

This week's election issue is actually two issues that are related--Health Care and the pressing needs of Women. The last legislatures at the State and Federal level failed to provide health care reform--affordable insurance for all citizens. And the "gender gap" continues to plague women at all levels of educational attainment. Within this gap is a lack of health insurance as employers opt out of providing this expensive benefit.

You can click "read more" for some background on these issues and stay tuned this week for more specifics from our candidates: Tara Johnson (Tuesday), Dale Klemme (Wednesday) and Barack Obama (Thursday).

There is also a Wednesday night (7 pm) issue evening at the HQ in Viroqua on these topics. See the Calendar for more info and dates. Come and talk about how these issues impact your life, and what we need communicate to our representatives at the State and Federal levels.

Health care reform

The last legislatures at the State and Federal level failed to provide health care reform--affordable insurance for all citizens. At the State level there was the Healthy_Wisconsin initiative to extend affordable health care insurance to working adults. This was part of the budget that the Senate passed, not part of the Assembly budget (Republican Assembly) and in the negotiations in the conference committee the provision was taken out. Legislation by negotiation.

The leaders pushing for this kind of comprehensive reform will again pursue the goal, but with listening ears for how to make it a successful bill. Funding the plan is part of the issue, but in reality this kind of comprehensive reform is the way to control costs and distribute risk. Small steps and increases in coverage via BadgerCare is helpful, but this successful part of the budget is little more than an expansion of Medicaid. To really help businesses and governments cope with rising costs (Vernon County is budgeting (2009) for an 18% increase in health insurance premium) we need something more.

The Gender Gap

The news on women is alarming and has been for years. The Institute for Women's Policy Research was quite critical of Wisconsin in a 2002_report that ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Among the findings, Wisconsin ranked:

-No. 45 in the wage gender gap. In 2002, Wisconsin women earned a median annual average of $28,100, just 71.1 percent of the wages of Wisconsin men. Nationwide, that percentage was 76.2 percent.

-No. 46 in the percentage of women in managerial and professional occupations (29.4 percent v. 35.5 percent nationwide in 2001).

-No. 28 in median annual full-time earnings for women (again, $28,100 v. $30,100 nationwide in 2002).

The Wisconsin_Women's_Council provided a press release on the Gender Wage Gap more recently (April 2008) and notes these statistics:

With a median hourly wage of $13.67 in 2006, Wisconsin women’s wages were about 22 percent lower than men’s. At this rate, a full-time, woman worker in the state would earn around $28,000 per year, on average, compared with over $36,500 for men.

For women ages 25-35, the 2006 median hourly wage of $13.89 was 15 percent below the men’s median for that age group. This despite the fact that the younger women’s median wage was slightly higher than the median wage for all women.

The good news for Wisconsin women may be that attaining a college degree pays off in increased wages and a slimmer wage gap. Even for young women with a college degree, however, the pay gap persists.

Men and Women alike should be concerned about equal pay for the same work. All of us contribute to family income, and that income is not keeping up with rising costs and increasingly troubled economic times.