EAU CLAIRE, Wis. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) took the angry tone of this
summer's health care town halls down a notch Wednesday afternoon, meeting
with state representatives of the National Federation of Independent
Business and three local small-business owners in his district office
Kind, who voted against the Democrats' health care reform bill as a member
of the House Ways and Means Committee, defended the revamped package in a
wide-ranging hourlong conversation, trying to address the concerns and
fears of the small-business owners.
The intimate meeting came a day after Kind spoke to a fairly even-tempered
crowd of about 300 constituents in Darlington, Wis., about health care.
While Kind faced a gentler audience than some of his colleagues encountered
earlier this month, the business owners still voiced skepticism over the
uncertainty and lack of specifics in the health reform proposals and how
they might affect small businesses.
"Distrust, concern, fear, I think these are the words that sum up where the
small-business community is," NFIB Wisconsin State Director Bill Smith said.
Kind tried to assuage the business owners' concerns about the cost of health
care reform and how the proposed legislation could affect the health care
insurance plans for themselves and their employees.
"There's going to be some uncertainty, and that's natural," Kind said. "The
hardest thing to change is the status quo."
As a provider of health insurance for his employees, Mike Conlin, owner of
Dynamic Displays in Eau Claire, said he was really concerned about whether
the plans available now will exist after health care legislation is passed.
"Will what we offer continue to be able to be offered?" Conlin asked. "I
don't see any guarantee of that."
Conlin and his 15 employees make industrial monitors and displays, and
Conlin provides his workers with health savings accounts.
Kind tried to assure Conlin that Congress is looking to expand the system,
not reduce the number of choices.
"We're building on the existing system," he said.
The business owners were also concerned about the cost of the program.
Kind acknowledged that the difficulty in passing health reform is on how to
pay for it. While there is consensus in Congress on about 85 percent of the
provisions of health reform, according to Kind, much of the disagreement is
on where to find savings and revenue.
Kind stayed calm throughout the exchange even as the small-business owners
alluded to his potential interest in running for governor in 2010 now that
Gov. Jim Doyle (D) has just announced his intention to retire.
Unlike many of the health care town halls throughout the country, which have
focused on generalities, the small-business owners had specific questions
regarding the cost and coverage of the proposed plan.
Wes Vlcek, owner of R&R Repair in Eau Claire, also voiced skepticism about
the government's ability to produce affordable health care and put "teeth"
into the proposal to force individuals like students to get health
Kind responded that students in particular will be aided by the package
because it allows parents to extend their employer coverage to older
"You'll find most of the students stay on their parents' plans," Kind said.
Sherry Wubben of La Crosse, Wis., raised several questions about how the
changes to the system would affect companies that self-insure their
Owner of a large farm equipment company, Wubben has 165 employees and
pointed out that one provision in the health care legislation would allow
the government to review whether companies are financially stable enough to
"We made a conscious decision to reduce the costs for employees," Wubben
said. I "feel a little bit concerned that the federal government will make a
determination whether we're financially viable; I think I'm more financially
viable than the federal government."