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Fair-goers Living with Health Insurance Changes; Asking for More

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 Tuesday, 05 August 2014
in Wisconsin

fairgoersThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about health care conversations she had with people attending county fairs. Many people were thankful for affordable health care rates but others were concerned about the difference in insurance rates between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota's rates were lower. Local folks also asked why Wisconsin turned down the federal Medicaid expansion dollars.


BLACK RIVER FALLS, WI - “The Affordable Care Act has been godsend for me,” the middle-aged, single man whispered to me at the Jackson County Fair. “I had paid $336 a month, now I pay $56 and its better insurance.”

Health insurance, and what Wisconsin should do about it, was the topic of conversation at the Jackson County Fair. A local civic organization asked fair-goers the question; is the Affordable Care Act the same as Obamacare? Three out of four who answered this unscientific poll were correct: Yes!

One woman worried about the quarter who got the answer wrong. “They agree adult children should be covered on their parents plan until age 26,” she told me. “They agree women should not pay more than men, pre-existing conditions should be covered, no life-time caps and we should have lower rates – but they hate Obamacare. They don’t know these are the same.”

I heard many whispered thanks for lower rates; whispered because it might not be socially acceptable to embrace Obamacare in mixed company at the fair. But moving from Jackson County to border counties - Trempealeau and Buffalo – I heard comparisons with Minnesota.

“My sister pays a third of what I pay,” a woman said. “She lives in Winona. Why can’t I get a better price?” Both women bought health insurance on the exchange. Minnesota has its own exchange; Wisconsin’s governor turned down that option.

Reporters at the St. Paul Pioneer Press analyzed health insurance exchange rates across 36 states divided into 406 geographic areas. The Dunn County News summarized the reporters’ work:

The Twin Cities [is] a rating area that has the lowest "benchmark" premium for a 50-year-old who doesn't smoke, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services... The newspaper found that the rating area that covers Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties in western Wisconsin has the second-highest benchmark premium for a 50-year-old nonsmoker.

How can it be the Cities has the lowest health insurance rates and, just across the river, the rates are the second highest of 406 different geographic areas?

The article attributes the price difference to a lack of competition in Wisconsin and “a convergence of policy decisions” between the two states. Two reasons mentioned by the Pioneer Press are the way the two states handled high-risk pools (known in Wisconsin as HIRSP) and whether or not the state accepted hundreds of millions in federal Medicaid money for newly eligible people.

Minnesota decided to keep high-risk people in their own state-run pool – at least for now. Wisconsin chose to eliminate the pool and send high-risk people to private insurance. Wisconsin’s HIRSP program was very effective at providing high quality care while carefully controlling health costs.

Moving some 60,000 Wisconsin parents from BadgerCare to the private exchange likely raised rates for others buying through the exchange. Statistics tell us families of modest means will have higher health costs than those better off.

Debate still rages on whether or not Wisconsin should have its own exchange. I’m firmly in the “yes” camp. In the proposed law I drafted to create a Badger Health Exchange, high risk individuals would not immediately lose coverage and be sent to commercial insurance (raising rates in the entire pool). And in budget amendments drafted by my colleagues and me, Wisconsin would accept the projected $2.4 billion federal money over 8 years and keep low-income parents on BadgerCare when their children were also eligible.

Recent state health department data shows a surprisingly low number of people who lost BadgerCare actually got insurance through the federal exchange. Only a third of parents who lost BadgerCare actually got private insurance. These families all live on the edge of poverty and all have children living at home.

Fair-goers I’ve met over the past few weeks don’t understand why Wisconsin’s governor turned back hundreds of millions to keep up the anti-Obamacare rhetoric. As one farmer said, “It’s the law and we have to move on. We might not like it all, but it’s the best we’ve got.”

For those who now have affordable coverage the whispered words remain: the new law is a godsend.

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County Fairs: Competition, Critters and Community

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 Tuesday, 29 July 2014
in Wisconsin

county-fairThis week Kathleen writes about county fair season.


ALMA - “I haven’t seen you in at least 20 years,” the rural Ettrick women exclaimed as she shook the older man’s hand. “Catching up with friends is a great part of the county fair,” she leaned over and told me.

It’s county fair-time.

Walking through the fairgrounds I see the efforts of many volunteers. Thousands of hours go into preparing for the fair. Preparations for this year began shortly after last year’s fair concluded.

Young people compete for fair premiums, blue ribbons and trophies. Their preparation begins in the selection of projects, generally through 4H and FFA. Detailed records are kept of animal’s production. Young animals are taught to lead. Youngsters learn the proper way to show. Parents encourage, prod and persevere through the stressful last weeks of preparation.

Oldsters get into the action thinking of quilts, preserves, crops or tractors to show.

Volunteer boards run most county fairs. Every member of the board is a strong contributor to the operation of the fair. Every detail of building maintenance, entertainment, purchase of supplies, vendor contracts, and fair booth preparation gets scrutinized by the fair board volunteers.

County fairs have a deep tradition in our state. Wisconsin’s first county fair was held in Waukesha County back in 1842. This fair was held before Wisconsin was even a state! At that fair a handful of exhibitors showed their agricultural exhibits. A total of $40 was awarded to exhibitors. Now Wisconsin has 76 state-aided fairs every year. Seventy-one of Wisconsin’s 72 hold county fairs. Five of those counties also host a district fair.

The old agricultural expositions, as they were sometimes called, became a place for city folks to meet country dwellers and for farmers to compete against each other. Fairs helped grow the dairy industry. They also became a time for farmers to learn the latest in agriculture techniques and compete against each other in categories from quilts to corn.

Everyone looked forward to Fair Day.

Youngsters arrive by the carload, carefully carrying their projects. Family, friends or adult leaders help unload the cattle and kids take them to the wash rack for a cold bath.

Horses are bathed and polished. Teens saddle up and head to the exercise ring to work off nervous energy. Over and over again youngsters ride through the pattern their horse will perform. The youth strive to win the best time, take home a trophy and a small premium check.

Sheep, lamas, swine, goats, fowl, rabbits, cats and dogs are among the myriad of animals that compete for awards.

But the fair is about more than clean critters and competition. It’s about community.

It’s time to catch up with relatives, friends and neighbors. Grandparents share stories of their children. And the tradition continues as their children remind their own offspring in a way that sounds strangely like something that parent heard as a child.

Generations of youngsters grew up with 4H. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 4H program nationwide. Like the first county fairs, 4H started with a focus on farming. Today the organization is much more than crops and livestock. Rural and city youth alike participate in a wide spectrum of programs that teach them important life skills. Technology is providing new opportunities for youth.

Digital photography, computer and web categories are bringing in a whole new group of technology driven exhibitors.

4H will continue strong into its second 100 years because of the contributions of so many adults who teach generations of youngsters. Recently I attended 4H leadership awards where we celebrated a gentleman who gave 60 years of leadership to youth in 4H.

The volunteers serving on the fair board, in the booths, as livestock supervisors, 4H leaders, parents, grandparents and adult mentors come together to create a fair experience youngsters remember forever.

The fair creates the spirit of community that nurtures the soul and encourages the young person to say, “I want to raise my family here.”

Hats off to all the volunteers who make this year’s fairs the best ever.

If you haven’t had your fill of fairs, the Jackson, Buffalo and Pierce County Fairs are coming up. And don’t forget Wisconsin’s premier State Fair!

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Walker Trek Ads An Enigma

Posted by Joanne Kaus
Joanne Kaus
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on Tuesday, 29 July 2014
in Wisconsin

scottwalkerGRAFTON - I don't get it! Scott Walker has been a proponent of trade companies that encourage out sourcing. Eaton and Plexus who got millions in tax breaks from WEDC out sourced jobs and then laid off 279 workers. He was a defender and supporter of Mitt Romney who shipped lots of jobs overseas. He traveled to China to promote trade relations that include outsourcing. So why are there two expensive ads being run now by Walker criticizing Trek bikes who may have outsourced some jobs even after he praised Trek a couple years ago for being a model company? Could this be that Scott Walker is forgetful, or is it hypocrisy?

The above process is pretty much the way companies operate today, much as we don't like it. In spite of outsourcing jobs, Trek has continued to employ close to 1000 people here in Wis. To me this is impressive. Also impressive is "Invest for Success", Mary Burke's 47 page plan to create jobs here in Wisconsin.

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Identity Theft: New Scam Targets Unemployment Insurance

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 Monday, 21 July 2014
in Wisconsin

identity-theftThis week Sen. Vinehout writes about a local woman who was a victim of identity theft when thieves used her personal information to file a fraudulent Unemployment Insurance claim. In what appears to be a multi-state problem, she notes the Joint Legislative Audit committee recently approved an audit of the UI claims process, shares information about what to do if you are a victim and how to protect your identity from being stolen.


EAU CLAIRE - A woman was the victim of an unemployment insurance scam. “What are you going to do to help me?” she challenged legislators and candidates at a recent forum in Eau Claire. “What are you going to do to prevent this from happening again?”

The scam she described was new to incumbent and want-to-be lawmakers.

A thief stole her identity and falsely filed an unemployment insurance claim. The scam happened the beginning of July, perhaps over the 4th of July holiday weekend. The scam may be part of a nationwide swindle targeting consumers, employers and state unemployment insurance programs.

The thief collected money from the state before the woman or her employer knew a false claim was filed. How the thief got her personal information is not yet known. However, the woman’s identity was a part of the personal information compromised through Target stores.

She filed a police report and a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). She contacted her banks and the state agency responsible for unemployment insurance. But this was not nearly enough to stop the scam from happening again.

On her behalf I contacted the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and the state auditor. DATCP officials actively pursue fraud investigations and work on identity theft through the Office of Privacy Protection.

I learned DATCP officials were already working with the unemployment insurance agency’s Program Integrity unit to investigate the scam. The federal government was also involved in the investigation. Many similar cases have been reported in Wisconsin and the Eau Claire case was part of a multi-state investigation.

Early this year the Legislative Audit Committee, on which I serve as ranking minority member, approved an investigation of unemployment insurance claims processing. The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau already began investigating delayed and improper unemployment insurance claims and was ardent to consider the new scam in their scrutiny of the state agencies’ activities.

Using someone’s personal information is not only unemployment insurance fraud it is considered identity theft.

Identify theft is the fastest growing crime in America. The Office of Privacy Protection’s website states more than 11 million people are victims of identity theft. CNN reports that every two seconds another American becomes the victim of identity fraud.

The National Institute of Justice warns few persons are aware of the complexities of the many issues involved with this crime, which is really a large set of fraudulent activities ranging in size from minor swindles to major crimes using stolen identities.

I learned people might not even be aware they are victims of identity theft. Some telltale signs, compiled by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), include bills that don’t arrive on time, collection notices for services you never received, email or mail about accounts in your child’s name, mistakes on your bank, credit card or medical insurance statements.

Officials at the Office of Privacy Protection told my office the current unemployment insurance scam is limited to false unemployment insurance claims but thieves could expand their fraudulent activity using the stolen information. People should learn what to do if they are victims of identity theft and protect themselves from having their identity stolen.

How to protect yourself and your family? Order a free credit report once a year. You can do this at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. Read your bank, credit card and medical insurance statements. Investigate any mistakes. Protect your identity online. Don’t give out personal information over the phone and shred personal information before taking out the trash.

A victim of identity theft should file an identity theft report- this includes a report to the FTC, the local police and the Office of Privacy Protection. Victims should notify one of the credit reporting companies and ask for a fraud alert. Identity theft victims should also order and review a credit report from each credit reporting company.

Find out more about how to protect your identity from the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/articles/pdf/pdf-0014-identity-theft.pdf or the Federal Bureau of Investigation at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft.

To file a complaint with the Office of Privacy Protection contact their hotline 1-800-422-7128 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . To file a complaint with the Legislative Audit Bureau’s Waste Fraud and Mismanagement Hotline contact 1-877-FRAUD-17 (1-877-372-8317) or www.legis.wisconsin.gov/lab/Hotline.

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Why Art?

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 Tuesday, 15 July 2014
in Wisconsin

This week Sen. Vinehout writes about the importance of art and art tourism to the state’s economy. Wisconsin's investment in the arts has dropped significantly in recent years, while Minnesota ranks #1 in state spending for the arts.  This impacts not only the artists but businesses that benefit from tourism dollars.


MADISON - “Art has the power to fill spaces in our souls that nothing else can,” said Alan Nugent, owner of Abode Art Gallery in Stockholm. I recently had an opportunity to learn about art and its impact on Wisconsin.

“Art has the power to transport, transform, to call and excite. I see this every day when people come in my gallery. People talk about being revived and rejuvenated. They feel things they haven’t felt in a while,” Alan said. “The other day an 80-year-old farm woman came in and viewed a painting of the countryside. The painting took her back to memories decades old.”

Alan loves art. His passion is palpable. His drive is the matching of art created by someone he knows with a new owner moved by the creation.

“Artists put into their work their passion for the natural world,” he explained. “How often do we get to do something that creates an emotional response?”

Stockholm, a small community along the Mississippi River, is one of many communities that experienced an art renaissance in recent years. New businesses and tourists flock to the picturesque community nestled below the bluffs. The center of Stockholm is the Wide Spot Performing Arts Theater, named for the wide spot in the Big River.  Alan and his partner renovated this historic opera hall.

“We have a visual art gallery,” he said. “But writing is the most powerful form of art and the hardest to understand. At Wide Spot the most interesting performances have been spoken words; poetry and readings.”

Through the Arts Board, Wisconsin supported the work of Wide Spot with a small grant to assist in the first season of “Going Coastal” a podcast radio show. “A tiny bit of seed money creates a community,” Alan noted. The seed blossomed into many profitable tourist businesses.

“Arts and tourism are utterly intertwined. They cannot exist without each other,” Alan stated.

Across the nation, states are vying with each other to snag more of the tourists’ dollars. Arts tourism has become the new buzz word. Communities are looking to attract those who spend money as tourists; they are more likely to be over 50 and looking for good food and culture.

Fortunately, western Wisconsin has become a destination for many tourists. They are drawn to its natural beauty like the Great River Road which was voted the “Prettiest Drive: Ultimate Summer Road Trip in the United States”. Tourists are also drawn to communities all around western Wisconsin for the emerging cultural scene.

Wisconsin makes small investments in developing art and tourism through the work of the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Department of Tourism. Alan is a member of the Board of Directors of Arts Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization promoting state funding for the arts.

“We advocate for the arts as a way to build communities and economies,” Alan explained. “This funding allows people to create, to think outside the box; to build something they would never be able to do otherwise. The funding tends to show exceptional return on the state’s investment.”

Wisconsin historically ranked in the middle of the pack in state spending for the arts. But this commitment has waned, especially in recent years. A study just released by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies ranks Wisconsin arts funding 48th in the U.S. with only fourteen cents per person spent on the arts.

Minnesota ranked #1 with $6.31 per person invested in the arts.

This huge disparity is a drag on Wisconsin’s economy as hundreds of thousands of dollars go from Wisconsin to Minnesota. “They have it and we don’t,” Alan said. “We are trying to reverse it by people coming here [to Stockholm] but we are a grain of sand.” The lack of funding means many projects never get off the drawing board.

“This shows how important it is for each individual to step forward and support the arts. Otherwise we won’t survive,” Alan emphasized.

What can you do to support the arts? Come to the Stockholm Art Fair Saturday, July 19thfrom 10am to 5pm.

Find other art fairs at www.travelwisconsin.com. You can also learn about the work of the Wisconsin Arts Board at www.artsboard.wisconsin.gov and Arts Wisconsin atwww.artswisconsin.org.

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