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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher October 30, 2010

Group says four Wisconsin senators voted to raise taxes on workers so “freeloaders” can get free health care

Before the federal law derided by critics as "ObamaCare" overshadowed earlier attempts at health care reform, a proposal for universal health care in Wisconsin gained national attention.

"Perhaps the boldest move on health care reform ever in a state," declared the Progressive States Network, a left-leaning public policy organization, after the state Senate approved "Healthy Wisconsin" in 2007.

"Wow, is ‘free’ health care expensive," countered a Wall Street Journal editorial headlined "Cheese Headcases."

"Healthy Wisconsin" did not become law, but it has returned to the spotlight in the 2010 elections for the state Senate in TV ads produced by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

The state’s largest business group is targeting four Democratic senators in key districts: Jim Sullivan of Wauwatosa, John Lehman of Racine, Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls and Robert Jauch of Poplar. The ads vary a bit, sometimes doubling up the targets, but all follow the same theme.

"Do you refuse to get a job? Looking for a free ride?" a narrator asks in one of the ads. "Well, Jim Sullivan says, Come to Wisconsin. No job? No problem! Don’t pay taxes? Don’t worry about it!"

Then comes the punch line:

"Jim Sullivan’s been working hard to raise taxes on Wisconsin workers by another $510 a month so freeloaders can get free state-run health care."


For some workers, that’s a car payment or two worth of higher taxes every month. And "freeloaders" is, well, a pretty loaded word.

So, let’s see what Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is talking about.

The ads cite votes by the four Democrats for Senate Bill 40, which was the Senate version of the 2007-’09 state budget and included "Healthy Wisconsin." The proposal would have provided health coverage to nearly all state residents.

Senate Bill 40 died after being approved by the Senate. It faced opposition from Assembly Republicans and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who said at the time he had to live in the "real world" of ideas that could become law.

Let’s examine the two parts of the major claim in the ads:

The Senate Democrat’s plan would have raised "taxes on Wisconsin workers by another $510 a month ..."

The proposal was to be funded through a payroll tax. The average monthly cost would have been $370 for employers and $140 for employees, or a total of $510, according to the Senate Democrats’ summary of the plan.

When asked why the ads claim the full tax would have been picked up by workers, WMC policy analyst R.J. Pirlot told PolitiFact Wisconsin: "It ultimately comes out of the worker’s pocket."

That’s one view of it. But clearly $510 per month would not have been deducted from paychecks, as the ads suggest.

Now the second part.

" ... so freeloaders can get free state-run health care."

"Freeloaders" means people who don’t work, said WMC spokesman Jim Pugh.

Indeed, WMC’s ad against Jauch -- unlike the ones against Sullivan, Lehman and Kreitlow -- is explicit on that point.

That ad says "Healthy Wisconsin" was "like ObamaCare, only worse. It would cost us $510 a month, but it’s free for people who move here and refuse to work."

Is that right? Only to a point.

"Healthy Wisconsin" would have covered state residents and out-of-state residents working in Wisconsin, except those already covered by plans such as Medicare, Medicaid and BadgerCare, according to the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Unemployed people would have been eligible for health care under the proposal. So would new unemployed residents, after living in Wisconsin for one year -- although that waiting period would have been waived for pregnant women.  

Let’s punch the clock on this item.

With a focus on key state Senate seats, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is airing ads against four Democrats for their votes on a failed universal health care plan. Citing a $510 a month cost, the ads overstate how much the plan would have raised payroll taxes on workers. As for the second half of the charge -- that "freeloaders" would get free care -- unemployed Wisconsin residents would have qualified, as long as they’d been state residents for at least a year.

We rate the claim as Half True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Interviews with Carrie Lynch, Wisconsin Senate Democratic Committee spokesman, Oct. 27 and 28, 2010

Interviews with Jim Pugh and R.J. Pirlot, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Oct. 28, 2010, Erpenbach plans summer Healthy Wisconsin hearings, April 2, 2009

Lewin Group, Healthy Wisconsin -- Your Choice, Your Plan: Cost and Coverage Impacts, June 19, 2007

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Reformer weighs in on health plan, July 16, 2007

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Democrats advance state budget, June 27, 2007

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Execs tout universal coverage, Oct. 22, 2007

Progressive States Network website, About page

Progressive States Network, statement, June 28, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Cheese Headcases, July 24, 2007

Wisconsin Legislature, Healthy Wisconsin plan summary

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Healthy Wisconsin plan

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce "Free Ride" ad on Jim Sullivan

Wisconsin Senate website

Wisconsin Senate Roll Call, SB 40 vote

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Group says four Wisconsin senators voted to raise taxes on workers so “freeloaders” can get free health care

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