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May 24, 2015

No budget changes to Wisconsin’s SeniorCare program

AARP members rally for SeniorCare

AARP members rally for SeniorCare

State budget writers will leave a popular program alone. Joint Finance Committee co-chair, Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette), acknowledged the outcry by seniors in response to Governor Scott Walker’s proposed changes to the SeniorCare prescription drug plan.

“There will be no changes to the program, and that’s basically to the credit of the folks in Wisconsin, and the people who represent them down here in Madison,” Nygren said.

Walker’s plan called for requiring SeniorCare enrollees to first get their drugs through Medicare Part D, with the state program filling the coverage gap. It would have increased premiums for more than 87,000 enrollees in the program. Nygren had indicated as early as March that Walker’s changes were unlikely to remain in the budget.

“This is something they (seniors) have grown to expect.” Nygren said. “They understand it, it’s a very simple program. You pay your enrollment fee, you have five dollar co-pay and fifteen dollar co-pay. Very easy, very clean to understand.”

Representative Andy Jorgenson (D-Milton), who took the lead in opposing the governor’s proposed changes to SeniorCare, called the decision a victory for seniors. “It’s sad that it takes over 14,000 people to sign petitions, to lose a lot of sleep, to work really hard to make something that’s so common sense happen,” Jorgenson said.

Bill coordinates obesity-related illness treatment for Medicare patients

Two Congressmen from the Midwest want to address the health issues tied to obesity among senior citizens. One of them is 3rd District Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, who says more needs to be done in the areas of care coordination and patient education.  “Erik Paulson, he’s a member from the Minnesota delegation, and I teamed up with legislation that would make it easier to coordinate care with seniors in Medicare when it comes to obesity related illnesses and healthy lifestyles.”

Kind told affiliate WSAU chronic disease management is a very important cost in the overall health care system, as well as a person’s quality of life when they have obesity-related illnesses.

The bill Kind and Paulsen introduced is designed to help coordinate care for seniors in the Medicare program when it comes to obesity-related illnesses and healthy lifestyles.  “This would help establish more care coordination system for them and make access to certain forms of treatment, alternative forms of medicine, and prescription medication more available so we can get out ahead of this cost curve, lead to healthier lifestyles, prolong the quality of life that our seniors should enjoy in their retirement and in their golden years.”

Kind says helping people live healthier lives also drives down the cost to the Medicare system, where 5 percent of the Medicare participants are responsible for 50 percent of the Medicare health costs due to chronic diseases, and most of it is tied to obesity.

Kind says his legislation is primarily education and outreach, and does not mandate diets or lifestyle choices in any way for Medicare patients.

Larry Lee, WSAU

Tomah 30 day reform plan ‘good start’

Tomah VA

Tomah VA

The recently announced 30-day plan to reform procedures at the Tomah VA Medical Center is getting some criticism and some praise from Washington lawmakers.

Congressman Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) likes what he sees in the plan, saying it’s a very good start.  “I think it’s very helpful. It’s an important step in the right direction as far as reforming the practice at Tomah VA. There’s going to be a lot more outreach and engagement, not just with staff there, but with the community, the veterans, the family members themselves.”

The Wisconsin Democrat told WSAU the Tomah 30-day plan is just the beginning, and hopes to see this become an example for improving care at other facilities.  “This is an opportunity for us to establish a model of care that’s not only going to enhance the care that our veterans receive at Tomah, but could become a model of the type of care that our veterans need nationwide, and quite frankly, healthcare system wide.”

U.S. Republican Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) is critical of the Tomah 30-day plan, saying it’s not enough. Johnson says there are employees at Tomah that are not being held accountable, and they need to be fired. Johnson is also critical of the VA’s Inspector General for a lack of transparency. Johnson chairs the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and believes these officials should be doing a better job of getting information to them. He also believes the new 30 day plan doesn’t address key issues like helping veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, and it doesn’t fully outline how they intend to manage opiate prescriptions.

Larry Lee, WSAU

OSHA fines Rothschild company for exposing workers to hazardous material

Federal officials have fined a Rothschild metal manufacturing company for exposing workers to a toxic chemical and other safety hazards found during an inspection.

The Operational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is fining Imperial Industries in Rothschild $161,000 for multiple violations. A 2014 inspection showed that the company exposed workers to unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium that was creating during welding processes. At high levels chromium is able to cause lung cancer and respiratory, eye, and skin damage.

OSHA spokesman Scott Allen says they’re deeming that exposure to the chromium a willful violation of regulations. “Absolutely unacceptable that a company would expose their workers to such hazardous chemicals when there’s such easily preventable alternatives to correct the actions.” Allen says Imperial failed to implement procedures to reduce and monitor exposure levels among workers.

There were a number of other serious violations in the November 2014 inspection. Allen says they found a number of possible amputation hazards and places where workers were underneath suspended heavy loads. “There are guards on these types of machines that are sometimes not put in place or removed so they can increase production, and that’s unacceptable.” There were a number of other serious violations. “Electrical safety hazards, workers were found operating damaged powered industrial vehicles. These are all things that are very basic OSHA standards.” In all, OSHA says that Imperial had 12 serious and 2 willful violations.

The company now has 15 business days to pay the fines, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings.

Raymond Neupert, WSAU

Pro-choice advocates slam GOP bill banning abortions after 20 weeks

Professional medical organizations strongly disagree with further restrictions on abortions, according to Obstetrician Doug Laube, and he said they oppose the “one size fits all” approach to abortion regulation.

“A crucial part of our job as doctors when helping women and families heal is to enable them to have some control over a situation that feels completely out of control to them.”

Senate President Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) is a main sponsor of what she calls the Pain Prevention Act. She said fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks gestation, though Laube disagrees. He said the scientific community generally agrees fetal pain capability may be neurologically possible at 26-28 weeks, but not 20. “It’s just medically inaccurate,” he said. “It goes against the credible available scientific literature that’s available right now. So, in effect, it’s not truth in advertising.”

Those who oppose the ban say pregnancy terminations after 20 weeks is “extremely rare.”

In 2013, there were 86 abortion procedures in Wisconsin.

Lazich’s bill contains a medical emergency provision. Governor Scott Walker said he would sign it.