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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Health insurers are stressing patience about Obama-care

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Pierce County Herald
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Thirteen Wisconsin health insurers have not gotten much business from Obama-care, but none are publicly crying foul yet. The federal government promised that its online purchasing exchange would be ready by October first, when the sign-ups began. Instead, Healthcare-Dot-Gov has been plagued with so many problems that President Obama admitted his frustrations yesterday. Up to 700-thousand Wisconsinites will be required to buy coverage from the exchanges by December 15th, so they can be insured by January first and avoid penalties. W-P-S of Madison has had about 20 people enroll in its Arise plan so far. Spokeswoman Ellen Foley says the company is taking phone applications, and will contact those people later. In her words, "It's just going to take a lot more time than we thought." Marty Anderson of Security Health Plan in Marshfield said there's been more interest than anticipated, and folks are being patient. Security has had about 55 exchange enrollments in the past three weeks. Meanwhile, agencies that help people sign up for Obama-care are getting stymied. Tanya Hudson of Milwaukee Health Services says people want information and quote, "There isn't any real information." Obama said his administration is doing all it can, but it has no timetable to fix the system.

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Wisconsin's local government and public school unions can start negotiating again for higher wages and working conditions -- but maybe not for long. The state promises to appeal a ruling yesterday from Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas, who ruled that the Act-10 bargaining limits from 2011 are unconstitutional for local and school unions statewide. Colas held state employment relations commissioners in contempt, for proceeding with annual re-certification elections for 400 local unions. Colas ruled more than a year ago that Act-10 did not apply to local and school groups -- but the state said the ruling only applied to the plaintiffs in that case, the Madison teachers and a Milwaukee city employee union. Colas ruled recently that his initial ruling was meant to apply statewide -- but until yesterday, he refused to issue an injunction to call off the re-certification elections. Those votes will have to be canceled after November first, unless the state can get a court to keep Act-10 in place while Colas's ruling from yesterday is being appealed. A Justice Department lawyer says they'll seek a stay of that decision for now, so the union elections can proceed. In the meantime, the Supreme Court will hear arguments November 11th on an appeal of Colas's original ruling. Governor Scott Walker's office expects to prevail, saying Act-10 has been upheld in every other legal challenge it has faced so far.

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Now that the federal government shutdown is over, we're learning that Wisconsin cheese production lost ground in August. Newly-released U-S-D-A figures show that the Badger State produced almost 233-million pounds of cheese during the month. That's down three-percent from the same time a year ago, while national production was rising at a three-point-nine percent clip. Wisconsin remains the nation's top cheese-maker, as second-place California made 42-million pounds less than in Wisconsin in August. The Golden State pumped out 191-million pounds, up by six-point-two percent from the year before. The other states in the Top-Five also had increases -- third-place Idaho, fourth-place New York, and fifth-place New Mexico. Wisconsin made more Italian cheeses in August, but the state's Cheddar-and-American cheese both had decreases.

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It's Election Day in two Wisconsin Assembly districts where Republican incumbents recently resigned. G-O-P candidates are the only ones squaring off today -- and in each case, the winner will run against a Democrat a month from now. Four Republicans hope to replace Scott Suder in central Wisconsin's 69th District. They are Marshfield Common Council member Alanna Feddick, former Marshfield Alderman Scott Noble, Granton tavern owner Tommy Dahlen, and Stratford businessman Bob Kulp. The winner will face Democrat Ken Slezak and independent Tim Swiggum on November 19th. In the Milwaukee area, five Republicans are running today to try-and-replace 21st District Representative Mark Honadel. Those five are former pilot William "Larry" Gamble, Oak Creek Alderman Ken Gehl, South Milwaukee landscaper Chris Kujawa, school choice advocate Jessie Rodriguez of Franklin, and Jason "Red" Arnold of South Milwaukee. Today's winner will face Democrat Elizabeth Coppola on November 19th. No matter what happens, Republicans will still have a huge majority in the Assembly. The G-O-P currently has a 57-to-39 advantage.

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Democrat Mary Burke says she would try to avoid raising state-and-local taxes if she's elected governor next year -- but she's not guaranteeing it. Burke tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she would have to look at the state's entire fiscal situation before deciding what to do on taxes. Burke, a former state commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle executive, is the lone Democratic challenger to Scott Walker at the moment. She said she would fight efforts to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state in which employees would not have to pay union dues. Burke also said she opposed the state's photo I-D law for voting, which is tied up in the courts. She's also against the constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions. Burke repeated she would not make any big promises on things like job creation, or repealing the state's Act-10 public union bargaining limits. State G-O-P director Joe Fadness said Burke has a long record of raising taxes, and voters should not be fooled. According to Politi-fact, Burke voted last year in favor of a nearly five-percent tax hike while on the Madison School Board. The increase was later cut back to one-and-three-quarter percent. This year, Burke voted against a preliminary school budget with a four-and-a-half percent tax hike. She said any tax increase should be limited to inflation.

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Wisconsin expects to get less federal money this winter to help low-income people pay their heating bills. The state Health Services Department says the average benefit for the season is expected to be 227-dollars. That's 110-dollars less than a year ago. Officials say about 215-thousand Wisconsinites will qualify for the aid, which is based on the household incomes, family sizes, and heating costs. Individuals must make less than 24-thousand-692-dollars a year to qualify, and families-of-four must get less than 47-thousand-485-dollars. Applications for heating assistance can be filed from now through May 15th at county social service agencies, tribal governments, and a variety of non-profit groups.  

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Jason Schulte
Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 
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