Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. October 26, 2021.

Editorial: Legislators’ unity can stop pernicious practice

The bill being advanced by Wisconsin legislators to rein in insurance companies’ bids to dictate where hospitals get their medications is a good example of bipartisan work to combat a bad practice.

There shouldn’t be a great deal of debate about this one. When insurance companies attempt to come between patients and the treatment they need by blocking medication or jacking the patient’s cost through the roof, it’s an egregious act. It’s an attempt to substitute the judgement of an accountant for that of a physician. While we’re perfectly content to trust an accountant when it comes to filing taxes or guiding us through an audit, we’ll stick with an oncologist for advice on cancer treatment or a cardiologist for our hearts.

As we reported in Tuesday’s edition, the practice is called “white bagging.” It’s when an insurance company attempts to force a hospital or other provider to purchase medications through a specific pharmacy. It’s easy to see why such a move might be desirable from the insurance company’s perspective. If it has a deal with the pharmacy, it’s going to get a better deal. If it owns the pharmacy, it makes a lot of money.

And, sure, there are some medications for which it probably makes little difference. Some medications are carried by virtually every pharmacy. But the insurance companies aren’t saying routine medications have to come through their hand-picked partner. They’re trying to strong-arm medical professionals into using their chosen affiliate for everything.

The proposal in the Legislature is known as Koreen’s Law, named after an Eau Claire woman who ran into that exact situation. Koreen Holmes’ treatment for breast cancer at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital was threatened when her insurance company tried to demand the hospital get the chemotherapy she needed from its approved pharmacy. But the hospital doesn’t use medications from outside sources.

Holmes was able to continue treatment without interruption. But the practice continues, and not everyone is so fortunate.

Backing for the bill is widespread. The Wisconsin Hospital Association, Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, Coalition of Wisconsin Aging and Health Groups, Wisconsin Association of Hematology and Oncology and several national health groups have all signed on to support it. So have multiple area legislators.

Rep. Jesse James, an Altoona Republican, framed his support simply and precisely. “We are talking about life here, not money.” He’s absolutely correct.

Unsurprisingly, insurance companies are mortified at being called out this way. The Wisconsin Association of Health Plans opposes the bill, saying the practice of white bagging is used “in limited circumstances.”

“Community-based health plans only apply these drug management strategies when they are confident the drugs can be safely dispensed and are appropriate for the patient’s needs,” it said in a memo sent to legislators.

The intellectual contortions that go into a claim like that are stunning. This isn’t even a particularly convincing PR effort. It’s a variation on Newspeak, the language used in George Orwell’s “1984” to gaslight the population into convincing them that what they can see and hear isn’t really what’s happening.

Holmes’ hospital’s policy on outside medications couldn’t have been a secret to her insurance company. On what planet is threatening to block treatment or charge her thousands of dollars per session “appropriate for the patient’s needs?” What about challenging the care of a dozen or so patients at Prevea Cancer Center. Is that actually helping them? Give us a break.

Insurance companies have a point when they say hospital markups are ridiculous. Saline IV bags are routinely the subject of horror stories, with accounts suggesting some hospitals bill hundreds of dollars for a product that costs them less than a fast food combo meal.

But color us very skeptical about the insurance companies’ claims they will save patients money by coercing hospitals into using their suppliers. It seems far more likely to us that they saw a way to pocket a markup themselves and jumped at it.

There are a lot of debates over health care to come. There won’t always be easy agreement on them like there is here. White bagging doesn’t appear to be a standard practice yet, but it is becoming more common. That will continue without legislative action.

But in this case, legislators seem unified in exactly how to stop the spread.

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Kenosha News. October 27, 2021.

Editorial: Madison’s homeless encampment an experiment worth watching

As people in Wisconsin look for solutions to homelessness — in the words of Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, it’s a problem that affects all 72 counties in the Badger State — the City of Madison is preparing to open an encampment for its homeless, and it’s taking its cue from a successful setup here in Racine.

Madison is constructing its first homeless camp at 3202 Dairy Drive, a remote industrial site on the city’s southeast side as a more humane option to a large, unsafe and illegal encampment at Reindahl Park near East Towne, the Wisconsin State Journal reported earlier this month.

In six weeks, the city graded a 1.8-acre site in an industrial area, brought in a small building and remodeled it with an office and bathrooms, and erected streetlights and electrical hookups to serve 30 tiny shelters. A 6-foot chain-link fence with vinyl privacy slats encircles the site.

The plan is comparable to the James A. Peterson Veteran Village already in place in Racine on Yout Street where homeless veterans can live in tiny homes.

At the end of this month, a private company is to deliver prefabricated shelters to the Madison site. Once assembled, each will be connected to electric service and come equipped with beds, heaters, air conditioners and mini refrigerators, locking doors, operable windows, shelving, heaters and air conditioners, refrigerators and safety features like an emergency exit, fire extinguishers and smoke alarms.

The first residents could move to the encampment as soon as mid-November before winter sets in, the State Journal reported.

Staff will be present during the day and evening, and individualized services like help finding more stable housing, mental health services and addiction treatment also available.

“The rules for campground users, guests and other details will be addressed in an operations plan developed by the city and the management partner,” city Community Development Director Jim O’Keefe said.

One chief goal of the new site is avoiding the physical disturbances and drug activity seen at the Reindahl Park encampment, Madison Police East District Capt. Gary Jamar said.

The city estimates the camp will cost roughly $900,000 in initial costs and $75,000 monthly for operations.

“We are trying something new with this shelter campground, and learning from other communities and people experiencing homelessness in the process,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said. “My hope is that this temporary location and staffing will provide an opportunity for people to feel safe and stable, so they are prepared to move on to a more permanent housing situation.”

The city’s management partner will provide onsite staffing during the day and evening with a 24/7 phone line, case managers, property maintenance, safety monitoring for safety and help with transportation, among other services.

There is no set length of stay, but the camp is intended to be an alternative to emergency shelter. The goal is to get people connected to housing, O’Keefe said.

We think that’s the right goal.

Homelessness happens for a variety of reasons. To accomplish a societal goal of getting people out of homelessness requires that they be given some kind of a helping hand.

As with Veterans Village here in Racine, an actual roof over one’s hand and a door that locks is an important first step. It’s hard to do much else when you don’t have those.

We think Madison’s experiment with a homeless encampment equipped with service providers is one worth observing closely.

If it proves successful in helping people out of homelessness and into permanent housing, it could be the model to emulate elsewhere in the state.

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Wisconsin State Journal. October 27, 2021.

Editorial: Time to give it up, Mr. Gableman

Michael Gableman got off to a bad start in his redundant review of Wisconsin’s vote for president. And his ham-handed investigation keeps getting worse.

It needs to end.

The former state Supreme Court justice was named in late July to oversee a state Assembly probe into Donald Trump’s bogus claims of election fraud and corruption in Wisconsin. State and federal court rulings — as well as elaborate and careful recounts — had already determined Wisconsin’s election was fair and accurate, with President Joe Biden winning by more than 20,000 votes. In addition, the nonpartisan state Audit Bureau wrapped up its thorough review Friday, making several recommendations for improving future elections but finding the “election was largely safe and secure,” in the words of the Republican co-chair of the Legislature’s audit committee.

That won’t be good enough for Trump, who railed on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, until Vos launched a showy search for anything resembling wrongdoing that Trump could then tout at his political rallies. Vos even agreed to hike the cost to taxpayers almost tenfold — to $676,000 if not more — after a chummy ride with Trump on his private plane to an Alabama rally.

Gableman claims he’s acting impartially in search of the truth so Wisconsin voters can be confident their elections are fair.

But only a week after Gableman was named special counsel, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Gableman had claimed the election was stolen back in November during a speech to Trump supporters in Milwaukee.

So much for being a neutral arbiter.

Doubling down on partisan bias, Gableman hired a former Trump White House attorney to help him with his probe. The attorney, Andrew Kloster, had similarly claimed without evidence that the election was stolen.

So much for letting the evidence lead to a conclusion. Gableman and Kloster have flipped the script, searching for anything to back up their long-held and unsubstantiated accusations. Gableman has even suggested that local elections officials must show they didn’t do anything wrong. So much for innocent until proven guilty.

Gableman has confused county clerks with a cryptic email from someone name “john delta” seeking documents. Many clerks deleted the email, fearing it was a security risk. Gableman traveled to South Dakota to listen to the election conspiracies of discredited MyPillow Chief Executive Mike Lindell, a Trump ally. Gableman went to Arizona to learn about its partisan investigation, which recently concluded with Biden winning by a few more votes than before. Trump, ignoring the facts, again falsely claimed he won.

To show Trump he was going to be tough, Gableman got subpoenas to interview several liberal mayors in Wisconsin, including Madison’s. Then his staff canceled the interviews, which he wanted to conduct in secret. Then Gableman claimed they were still going to happen — maybe. He’s aggressively demanded documents that had already been released.

On a right-wing radio show, Gableman recently acknowledged he doesn’t know much about how elections are run. And he absurdly compared the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to a Nazi propagandist, then walked back his comment.

Though he touts the importance of our democracy, Gableman hasn’t voted in seven Wisconsin elections over the last three years, including for governor and the state Supreme Court he served on from 2008 to 2018.

Gableman is about to blow past the original October deadline for finishing his probe.

Here’s a simple way for Gableman to wrap up this Trump-induced witch hunt for an election conspiracy that doesn’t exist. All he has to do is interview one person: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh.

Caught telling the truth on a hidden camera at a Republican event in late August, Johnson explained that Trump lost because not enough Republican voters supported Trump for president in Wisconsin.

“There’s nothing obviously skewed about the results,” Johnson said. “There isn’t. Collectively, Republicans got 1.661 million votes, 51,000 votes more than Trump got. Trump lost by 20,000. If Trump got all the Republicans, if all the Republicans voted for Trump the way they voted for the Assembly candidates … he would have won. He didn’t get 51,000 votes that other Republicans got. And that’s why he lost.”

Case closed.

Gableman should save Wisconsin further expense and embarrassment. He should wrap up his futile and distracting investigation and go home.

END