By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — U.S. Representative Ron Kind heard a variety of concerns from Dunn County residents at a listening session held April 22 at the Dunn County Judicial Center.
Several dozen people attended the listening session to talk about issues such Medicare, veterans’ benefits, heroin addiction and the shrinking middle class.
In his opening remarks, Congressman Kind, who represents Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District, noted that the health care exchanges in Wisconsin that enrolled people in health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act had an enrollment of 117 percent of the enrollment goal. Health insurance enrollment through the insurance exchanges closed March 31.
Younger people in Wisconsin signed up at a participation rate of 28 to 30 percent, he said.
“We need to change how we pay for healthcare,” Kind said.
Right now, payments are volume based — that is, payments are based on the amount of health care supplied, such as the number of tests performed. Health care payments should be based on outcomes so that people end up with better outcomes at a better price, he said.
Congressman Kind also talked about the federal farm bill.
“It finally passed. It took seven years to get,” he said.
The farm bill needs more reform to move away from taxpayer subsidies that benefit large agribusinesses instead of helping the small farmers, Kind said.
The new farm bill makes a certain number of cuts to the food assistance program that takes food from the hungry and gives the money to agribusinesses, he said.
Cuts to the food program will amount $40 billion, although the Paul Ryan budget would have made $135 billion in cuts to nutrition assistance, Kind said.
Congressman Kind’s congressional district contains six universities.
The amount of student loan debt amounts to $1.2 trillion, which is more than the amount of all credit card debt in this country, he said.
The average student load debt is $28,000, Kind noted, adding that he is working on legislation that would reform how student loans are structured so that repayment would be based on income and would be more economically feasible.
Elderly people who have money in savings to hire people to come in and help them so they can remain in their own homes are private pay until the money is gone, said Dunn County resident Ellen Carlson.
But when the elderly people’s money is gone, they must go to a nursing home because Medicare will not pay for services received in a person’s own home, she said.
“I don’t understand,” Carlson said, noting that her own parents are now in that position of not having enough money to pay for home care services but most definitely not wanting to go into a nursing home.
Recently there has been a much stronger pushed for home-based care for the elderly, Congressman Kind said.
Some programs are available, and Kind said he would make sure that Carlson received information about them.
“It does not make sense to take them out of their own home,” Carlson said.
Calvin Christianson of Menomonie said he does not understand veterans’ benefits.
Christianson said he was told he did not qualify for veterans’ benefits because he has too much income, and he is not disabled.
“People volunteered to serve their country, and yet they are not qualified for any benefits,” he said.
The Veterans’ Administration currently has a huge backlog of cases, Congressman Kind said, adding that he has been working with the VA to see about alleviating the backlog.
Heroin use and addiction has become much more of a problem in Wisconsin in recent years, said Leonard Larsen of Colfax.
Information is available about how heroin addiction affects the person using heroin, but there has been very little information disseminated about the effects of heroin on people who might be victims of something someone else did while under the influence of heroin, Larsen said.
Many police departments and sheriff’s departments in Wisconsin do not have anyone on staff who has been trained to recognize the symptoms of someone who is under the influence of heroin, he said.
Larsen said more law enforcement officers should receive training to recognize heroin use.
Larsen said stronger awareness is needed, too, about prescription drug abuse among teenagers because the abuse of prescription drugs can be a gateway to using heroin.
Another woman who did not identify herself told Congressman Kind that she is worried about the middle class in the United States and that the middle class is disappearing.
“We are headed toward a two-class society,” she said.
If the middle class goes away, then democracy goes away, the economy will suffer and all of the social safety nets will disappear, she said.
Expenses are increasing rapidly, but incomes are not increasing at a rate fast enough to keep up with the expenses, the woman said.