Gov. Jim Doyle announced the creation of a new office Wednesday to help Wisconsin residents and businesses understand how the new federal health care law will affect them.
The Wisconsin Office of Health Care Reform will make sure the state complies with federally mandated requirements and deadlines, the Democratic governor said. That includes creating the framework for a so-called health insurance purchase exchange, a Web site where people will be able to easily compare different health care plans.
Doyle said the exchange will allow people to buy health insurance or search for more economical plans and will enable small businesses to band together to help bring costs down.
Wisconsin officials had been planning to create such an exchange regardless of whether the federal legislation was approved, which means the state has a head-start in implementing the federal mandates and will start seeing benefits sooner, Doyle said.
"When national reform is fully implemented, the rest of the country will look like Wisconsin does today," Doyle said during a news conference at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa.
The federal legislation signed by President Barack Obama last month extends coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, including about 125,000 Wisconsin residents. By 2014, the nearly $1 trillion, 10-year law will require that most Americans carry health insurance -- whether through an employer, a government program or their own purchase -- or pay a fine.
Provisions going into effect this year include preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing medical conditions. Wisconsin's BadgerCare Plus program already helps uninsured children who have pre-existing medical conditions, and Doyle said they will now be covered by the federal program.
The governor didn't release cost estimates of creating the Wisconsin Office of Health Care Reform, which will be co-chaired by state Secretary of Health Services Karen Timberlake and state Insurance Commissioner Sean Dilweg. A message left with his office wasn't immediately returned Wednesday.
The office's newly created Web site, http://healthcarereform.wisconsin.gov, has information about how the reform bill will affect Wisconsin residents. Information about health care plans will come later, though how the site will be structured isn't yet clear. Doyle wants to pursue federal grants to assist in developing the site, and Timberlake said Wisconsin may be able to save costs by working with neighboring states. A federal model also may be developed.
Under the new federal law, the Wisconsin exchange must be implemented by 2014. Doyle said he expected to have the site ready sooner but didn't elaborate.
Also Wednesday, the Legislature's budget committee voted to create a nonprofit corporation to begin planning a new statewide database that would allow medical providers to share electronic medical records. The state is receiving $9.4 million in federal stimulus funding for the program, which supporters say will reduce medical errors and save money.
Associated Press writer Ryan J. Foley contributed to this report from Madison, Wis.