Sunday April 22, 2018

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Giving a Voice to People Who Live with Disabilities

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 21 March 2018
in Wisconsin

disability-studentsThe Senator's proposed Public Assistance Advisory Committee would give those most affected a seat at the table while changes to essential public assistance programs, such as FoodShare and Medicaid, are created and require input from policy experts at the UW.


MADISON - “Many people with disabilities depend on public programs so they can stay healthy and live, work and participate in the community,” Jason Endres wrote to me in favor of a bill I recently introduced.

My bill, Senate Bill 870, would create a Public Assistance Advisory Committee. I drafted this legislation in response to Special Session bills recently passed by the Legislature that modified public assistance programs.

People with disabilities, as well as those living in poverty, rely on key public assistance programs, such as FoodShare, Medicaid and public housing. It is important for those using the programs to have a voice at the table when legislation to change these essential programs is considered.

Jason and his wife Julie Endres traveled to the Capitol to join other citizen lobbyists participating in Disability Advocacy Day. They came to raise awareness about the critical programs designed to help those who live with disabilities.

kathleen-vinehoutIn recent years, upwards of 800 folks, their caregivers, families and friends came to the Capitol in an effort to stop the Governor’s plan to put the IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) program under the administration of a single large for-profit insurance company. IRIS assists disabled persons in self-directing the services they need. Ultimately, these citizen lobbyists successfully fought to maintain administration of IRIS through a state/non-profit partnership.

People shared their personal stories about how state programs fund critical assistance, such as personal care workers. These people are angels on earth who make a big difference in the lives of our disabled neighbors and their family members. The personal care workers had not received a wage increase since 2008. Even then, they only received a one-and-one-half percent increase. Personal care workers make around nine or ten dollars an hour according to the Wisconsin Personal Services Association.

The package of Special Session bills also makes changes in eligibility for basic assistance, including Medicaid and Foodshare. People could be required to sell their home, small business or their cows to obtain temporary help when they hit hard times. Physically disabled persons would be required to sell their wheel-chair adaptive van if the value is greater than $10,000.

These new rules worried Jason and his wife Julie. “When changes to these programs occur, we need to be at the table as stakeholders to explain how we use the programs and how even small changes often can result in unintended consequences that really impact us,” wrote Jason.

At the public hearing on the Special Session bills, the advocacy group Survival Coalition testified, “there are not consistent exemptions for people with disabilities across the legislative package and no clear public input process.” The Coalition went on to explain that people with disabilities as well as caregivers, have difficulty getting special exemptions under current requirements.

During the hearing, we heard many people testify about how the bills could leave more folks without needed food or health care. The bills could hurt farmers struggling with low commodity prices, young parents who need healthcare, small business owners who hit hard times and those with “invisible disabilities” like autism spectrum disorders.

Many advocates, who work with those facing difficult hurdles, testified that they were not provided any opportunity for input as the Special Session bills were crafted. New administrative red tape for the poor and disabled will mean more people falling through the cracks.

The Special Session bills include provisions that are currently not allowed under federal law. This means the Walker Administration will be required to seek a “waiver” – which is special permission from the federal government to implement the new law.

My bill would bring this waiver writing out of the dark. It would allow those affected by changes to essential public assistance programs to have a seat at the table while new details on the programs are created. Senate Bill 870 would also require input from policy experts at the UW.

Too often research is not a part of the public policy process. The work of the Population Health Institute and the Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty is internationally recognized. We need the expertise of these social scientists at the table when crafting policy related to assistance for those who most need our help.

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Listening to Those Who Cannot Hear

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 14 March 2018
in Wisconsin

sign-interpreter-jack-jason-marlee-matlinImagine you are deaf. You can sign to those who understand but most of the hearing world doesn’t know your language. Current law requires state institutions must provide competent interpretation services, but a Senate Committee Chairman may be trying to change all that.


The issue, a bill (AB 589) to upgrade skill levels and regulation of Sign Language Interpreters had bi-partisan support and those in the Deaf community were pleased with the original bill language. But then the bill was significantly changed when the Senate Chair of the Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations committee, who is ideologically opposed to professionalizing Sign Language Interpreters, advanced other legislation to eliminate certain occupational and professional licensure.

MADISON - “The quality of interpreters is so important. I need someone who has the fluent skills to work with me,” Leah Simmons explained. “Their lack of knowledge reflects negatively on me.”

Professor Simmons uses specific jargon and language. Her colleagues and students judge her by the language she uses. She cannot communicate directly to hearing students.

Professor Simmons is Deaf. She is part of a community of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people working to upgrade skill levels and regulation of Sign Language Interpreters.

At the same time, ideologically conservative groups from outside Wisconsin are working to de-professionalize many occupations. Sign Language Interpreters are on the top of their list.

kathleen-vinehoutI became aware of the effort to eliminate certain occupational and professional licensing as a member of the Senate Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations committee. A few months ago, this committee held a daylong hearing on legislation setting up a process to eliminate some occupational and professional licensing. Professionals from architects to registered nurses came to testify against the bills. Ideologically conservative lobbying groups spoke favorably. Several groups were from out of the state.

Moving in the Assembly was a bill (Assembly Bill 589) to increase the skill level and accountability of sign language interpreters. The bill, authored by Representative Jonathan Brostoff, was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including myself.

Not a single person testified against AB 589 in the Assembly. However, the Senate Committee Chairman appeared to be ideologically opposed to professionalizing Sign Language Interpreters. He refused to hold a hearing unless the bill was significantly changed.

To accommodate the Senate Chairman, a substitute amendment was passed by the Assembly. This amendment stripped out all the original bill language and replaced it with a much watered-down version. Lost in this process were important provisions to increase skills and oversight, including the creation of a board to oversee quality and accountability and a process for resolving complaints.

For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, having oversight and a complaint mechanism for poorly performing sign language interpreters is essential.

Imagine, you cannot hear. You can sign to those who understand but most of the hearing world doesn’t understand your language. By law, our institutions must provide interpretation services. However, the quality of interpreters can vary dramatically from place to place. You may never know what you aren’t able to hear.

During the Senate committee hearing, we heard testimony from Deaf people. Some shared fears that without proper interpretation service, a person could be unjustly accused and not able to defend himself or herself. With no way to complain about or remove inferior interpreters, this scenario could happen repeatedly.

Massively changing AB 589 at the last minute created innumerable problems.

“This amendment puts the Deaf community in a difficult and awkward position,” wrote a leader in the Deaf community. “We do not like the idea that unproven hearing interpreters can continue interpreting in ANY setting without restrictions. That means a hearing interpreter that recently graduated from college is legally allowed to interpret in a high-risk medical, mental health and legal setting. There are many cases where unproven interpreters are interpreting in high risk setting[s] resulting in medical errors, inappropriate diagnosis, and even unlawful confinement.”

Representative Brostoff summed up the problem facing Senate Committee members who were asked to vote on the amended bill. “On balance, [the bill is] going to do more good than harm by a little bit. But there must be more fixes next session. Doing nothing has a cost, too.” When I asked him about the vote, he said, “I don’t know, it’s a tough one.” Rep. Brostoff is firmly committed to bringing back his original bill next year.

The past few years I have seen a troubling trend: the overt influence of ideological groups, mostly from outside the state, wanting to remake Wisconsin in their own image. The groups demand allegiance. Their ideology is absolute. Some lawmakers are quick to do their bidding even though the bills they push provide no benefit for the people of our state.

Our process of political deliberation exists to encourage public input. The peoples’ elected leaders weigh this input and make careful decisions in resolving difficult challenges. For democracy to truly work, lawmakers must set ideology aside, listen to the words of the people and balance competing interests.

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Eric Genrich to Run for Green Bay Mayor

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is a Founding Partner and Publisher of the N.E. Wisconsin - Green Ba
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 13 March 2018
in Wisconsin

eric-genrich-wbay-announcAnnounces he will not seek a fourth term in the State Assembly to promote the future development of Green Bay and restore civility at City Hall.


GREEN BAY - Local progressive leader and current State Representative Eric Genrich (D - Green Bay) announced in a statement released Monday that he will run to replace Jim Schmitt as City of Green Bay Mayor.

Schmitt announced last fall that he would not seek re-election. He has been mayor since 2003 and has sought to improve and modernize Wisconsin's third largest city, most notably downtown. He has come under fire recently by several aldermen, including Guy Zima, and has said he would consider re-entering the race if he wasn't happy with the candidates.

eric-genrich-family"These last few months I have spent a lot of time talking with family, friends, and community members about the prospect of my run for mayor," Eric said in his statement. "As a result of those encouraging conversations, and because of my continued commitment to public service and my love for this city, I am announcing my candidacy today."

Genrich has served the people of the Green Bay area in the State Assembly for the last six years, having won three straight elections in District 90. He announced Monday that he is stepping down for that post in Madison to come home to take on the challenge here.

"I am simultaneously announcing my decision not to seek reelection to the state Assembly. I make that decision with mixed emotions, recognizing how much work remains to be done," Genrich said. "But I also never intended to make a lifelong career of legislative service. At the end of my term, I will have served the people of Green Bay for six years in the legislature, which has been the honor of my professional life. I am proud of my record of advocacy and bipartisan accomplishment, and I plan to carry forward with that spirit into the future."

Genrich is the first announced candidate to replace Schmitt, but several current aldermen have been rumored to be interested in a run. Prospective candidates for the District 90 seat are also beginning to surface, including Brown County Supervisor Patrick Buckley. Buckley is a retired Green Bay police officer and businessman who franchises Subway restaurants in northeastern Wisconsin.

Schmitt's current term will end in 2019, and Genrich is taking on a year long challenge to replace him.

"As I begin this campaign, I want to make it clear that this race will not be about one person or a collection of candidates," Eric says in his statement. "Instead this effort must be about the people of Green Bay - people in every corner of the city and from all walks of life. During these next twelve months, I will talk to my fellow citizens in every neighborhood, listen to the hopes and dreams they have for our community, and give voice to those ideas as best I can."

"I am a proud son of Green Bay who deeply loves our community’s story," Genrich concludes. "I’m ready to help write the next chapter, and I ask my fellow citizens to join me."

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Don't Let A Few Bad Facilities Lead To Privatization Of The VA

Posted by Rick Staggenborg, MD
Rick Staggenborg, MD
Dr. Rick Staggenborg is a retired VA psychiatrist, former Army member and member
User is currently offline
on Monday, 12 March 2018
in Wisconsin

veterans-for-peace-va-marchOur scandal-obsessed media has distorted our impression of the VA, but don't let politicians use myths of privatization to milk the taxpayers by providing inadequate care to veterans.


ROSEBURG, OR - Recent articles detailing the history of mismanagement at the Roseburg VA paint a sorry picture of our local facility. It’s a story that must be told, but it’s important to put the facts into context. Generalizing from the problems of individual facilities without providing context gives the impression that the system is broken, as some claim. However, we can’t make sweeping conclusions about the VA without comparing outcomes between it and other healthcare systems. When we do, it’s clear that both by objective measurements and patient satisfaction ratings, VA care is superior to that provided by the private sector.

It’s important to recognize that our scandal-obsessed media has distorted our impression of the VA, because some politicians and their deep-pocketed benefactors have taken advantage of the negative coverage to target the VA for privatization. Using such stories to justify diverting funds to the private sector, investors in for-profit healthcare like the Koch brothers can reap enormous profits. Under the guise of increasing veteran “choice,” these privateers and their political lackeys have already outsourced 40 percent of patient visits and are pushing for more.

veteran-olderIt may seem a good idea to give veterans the option of getting help outside the VA, given claims that waiting times are excessive. That is, until you look at the facts. While it is true that at some facilities (including Roseburg) waiting times are longer than in the private sector, nationwide this isn’t the case. Where it does happen, as in Roseburg, the problem is more due to a lack of providers than mismanagement. This is partly because medical care providers at the VA are grossly underpaid relative to their counterparts elsewhere, another result of chronic underfunding of the VA by Congress.

There are currently nearly 50,000 unfilled positions at the VA nationwide. Is it any wonder that there are problems? VA facilities in places like Roseburg are chronically understaffed, as anyone who has been a primary care patient there for any time knows. As much as we love this place, it is just a little too rural for most doctors. Given that, the low pay and the unfairly poor reputation of the VA, it’s hard to staff the facility with providers and administrators who can choose to live almost anywhere. The solution to the problems of the VA isn’t diverting funds, but increasing the proportion spent within the system, including making salaries competitive.

Some people think that you can partially privatize the VA by letting it specialize in orthopedics and mental health, areas where it clearly has capabilities lacking in the private sector. What they don’t realize is that the greatest feature of the VA is that primary care is seamlessly integrated with specialty care. Primary care doctors know how to screen for stress-related conditions, traumatic brain injury, Agent Orange-related problems and other issues specific to vets. They can easily get them help with their specialist colleagues. The VA also has case managers and social workers whose jobs include making sure that these handoffs are as easy and reliable as possible, which is unheard of in for-profit medicine. This is especially critical with the aging VA population, those with head injuries and those who have trouble tracking appointments because of trauma-related problems with memory and concentration.

VA doctors know how to work with vets. In contrast, a recent Rand Corporation study of the ability of private care providers to work with veterans found that only about one in three providers met the study’s “minimum threshold for familiarity with military culture” and only one in five routinely asked if their patients had a military background.

In view of these facts, it’s obvious that privatizing even some of the functions of the VA will damage a well-coordinated system. The money spent on outsourcing beyond that which is necessary to provide good service could be better spent staffing the VA. Not only is the need greater, but the money goes much further. With its drug formulary and ability to negotiate prices, and without the profit incentive and other expenses unique to private care, the VA can deliver comprehensive services that would cost far more in the private sector, if such a system existed.

Fortunately, there is a growing effort to raise awareness of this attempt to milk the taxpayers for providing inadequate care to veterans. Veterans Fighting for Healthcare (www.ffvhc.org) is a growing national coalition whose mission is to organize to oppose privatization of the VA. As one of its most active partners, Veterans for Peace is staging actions around the country to educate the public about this problem. If you agree that veterans have earned the best medical care available in the US, join VFP of Douglas County when we gather at 4 p.m. on March 15 at the front gate of the VA on Garden Valley Road.

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Wisconsin Pharmaceutical Price-Gouging Bill Announced

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 07 March 2018
in Wisconsin

news confBill would give Attorney General power to investigate skyrocketing generic drug prices set by big pharmaceutical corporations to lower prices and protect Wisconsinites.


MADISON - At a news conference at the State Capitol today Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Senator Dave Hansen (Green Bay) and Rep. Jimmy Anderson (Fitchburg) announced new legislation that would empower the State Attorney General to block pharmaceutical corporations from price-gouging patients who depend on generic prescription medications.

Skyrocketing generic prices are harming families in Wisconsin and across the nation. A 2016 GAO report found that 1 in 5 generic drugs had an “extraordinary price increase” of at least 100%; 48 generic drugs had price increases by 500%; and 12 generic drugs had price hikes over 1000%. Well known examples are Albuterol (asthma medication) which increased 4,014%; Doxycycline (medication for bacterial infections) which spiked up 8,281%, and Pravastatin (heart conditions) which jumped 573%.

Pharmaceutical corporations have been pocketing the increases as profit, failing to give  legitimate explanations for the shocking price hikes. Under the legislation, the Attorney General can petition the circuit court to enjoin price gouging, or compel a corporation to justify large rate increases.

dave-hansen“It’s time to shine a light on what is becoming a very dark corner of the generic drug market,” said Sen. Dave Hansen, the Senate author of the bill. “People who can least afford it are getting squeezed by corporations and CEOs bent on generating bigger and bigger profits without any regard for the potential harm their greed is costing patients both in terms of dollars and personal health. This should not be an acceptable business practice here in Wisconsin.”

jimmy-anderson“Prescription drug prices are one of the leading out of pocket healthcare expenses for Wisconsin families. The ability of pharmaceutical companies to corner the market and set unreasonable prices hurts consumers, while doing nothing to improve treatment or outcomes,” said Rep. Jimmy Anderson, the Assembly author of the bill. “By enabling the Attorney General to order documents from drug manufacturers, we will better understand how drug prices are being set and how to control prescription drug costs. This legislation is vital in ensuring that our healthcare industry is focused on protecting Wisconsin families rather than simply kowtowing to the whims of massive drug manufacturers. It is imperative that we act now to protect Wisconsinites from exorbitant, unfair costs before this problem grows any larger.”

“As a practicing primary care physician I see first hand the growing financial burdens placed on patients and their families due to rising health care costs,” said Dr. Nike Mourikes at the news conference. “One in five Americans report skipping medication dosing or skipping prescriptions because of cost. This pharmaceutical price-gouging bill has come not a moment too soon, because the well-being and in some cases the lives of our fellow Wisconsinites hang in the balance.” (Dr. Mourikes is a member of Physicians for a National Health Plan and of Citizen Action’s Health Care for All Organizing Co-op)

robert-kraigAt the news conference Courtney Waller, the parent of a child with a complex disease who is literally kept alive by prescription medications, told the story of the vulnerability of her family to prescription drug prices. “This is a story you her time and time again from Wisconsin families who have children with medically complex diseases. And it is an issue which keeps many of us up at night.”

“The only way to protect Wisconsinites who rely on prescription drugs from exploitation at the hands of giant pharmaceutical corporations is to use the full power of our democratic government to even the playing field,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “In recent years the Legislature has abdicated its role as a public watchdog, and that needs to change. Senator Hansen and Rep. Anderson are to be commended for offering common sense legislation empowering the Attorney General to intervene on the public’s behalf when the greed of pharmaceutical corporations threatens the lives and livelihoods of Wisconsinites who depend on vital medications.”

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