During Thursday's conference committee hearing, Democrats defended the Healthy Wisconsin plan included in the Senate budget. State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) says Wisconsin has quality health care, people just can't afford it.

But Republicans continued to question the proposal, with Assembly Majority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald calling it a $15 billion tax increase.

Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) says a government-run health care system isn't the answer to rising costs. The Speaker says government is the leading cause of rising costs for health care, since state and federal programs drive down costs, and then don't fully pay for those benefits.

Huebsch presented a Republican proposal that would allow the public to make their own health care decisions. That plan includes Health Savings Accounts and the elimination of state sick leave benefits for elected officials.

However, Senator Erpenbach says the GOP plan won't solve the problem of unaffordable health care. Erpenbach says Democrats have offered a plan and detailed how to pay for it. He criticized the GOP for offering a plan that relies on Health Savings Accounts. The Middleton Democrat compared that concept to making health care a "luxury item."

After nearly three hours of debate, Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson (D-Beloit) called a halt, but made it clear Democrats aren't giving up on Healthy Wisconsin easily.

The budget conference committee is set to meet again next week, on Wednesday and Thursday. 

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (MP3 2:01)

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