We The People/Wisconsin: Economy -- Biz owner sees utility model as possible fix for health care problems
By Kay Nolan
Madison small-business owner Bret Gundlach believes the nation's health care system needs to be fixed. But instead of implementing the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, Gundlach wonders why a regulatory agency similar to the ones that oversee utilities couldn't be established.
"Having some more management of the system would make some sense," said Gundlach, 44. "More like a utility -- where it's still a private business and it's still a for-profit business, but you've got controls."
Gundlach, who can only afford a bare-bones health insurance plan for himself and the four other employees of his company, says too many Americans have inadequate health insurance or none at all. And in his opinion, health providers have allowed costs to run wild. But the fiscally conservative Gundlach believes health care is best left in private hands. The best solution, in his opinion, could be holding the entire industry to greater transparency and accountability
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth installment of WisBusiness.com's part of the We the People/Wisconsin 2012 economy project. Members of the statewide media coalition will follow Gundlach and Wisconsin families throughout the year telling their stories and their views on the state and national economy.
The project involves Wisconsin media outlets based in Appleton, Chippewa Falls, Green Bay, La Crosse and Madison.
Now in its 20th year, We the People/Wisconsin provides a unique voice for citizens all across Wisconsin. WTP’s mission is to broaden residents’ participation in public life through citizen-based reporting, town meetings, candidate and issue forums. Since it began in 1992, WTP has sponsored more than 100 live televised forums, candidate debates, statewide conferences and town hall meetings.
6/3/12: Business owner sees reasons for unity despite political differences
5/6/12: Business owner favors political individuality over group identification
3/31/12: Gundlach says he’s had to ‘buckle down’ due to rising gas prices
3/3/12: Intro: Meet Bret Gundlach
Gundlach objects to what he sees as duplication of services and facilities by health care providers. He'd favor a government agency to oversee decisions such as major expansion projects.
"Should Meriter Hospital be building a multi-million cancer or heart center when there's another one three blocks down the road? It's not an efficient model," Gundlach said.
He also faults health care providers for lack of transparency.
"There is no transparency in the system, or very little transparency," he said. "You don't know why it costs $5,000 for a CT scan, well, it's because they're covering other things in that cost.. It's just not a good, consumer-based system at all."
Gundlach, who describes his political views as conservative, dislikes the idea of too much government interference in health care, however.
"I think there needs to be more practical, good-business principles in health care and maybe some more management, kind of a like a utility-type program maybe, but having government run things, that just makes me cringe," said Gundlach. "I'm not a fan of 'ObamaCare' in general, I'm really not a fan of government-managed programs to begin with, because government just doesn't do anything very well. To throw trillions of dollars at it and say, 'Here, you run this thing -- we think you can run it better than the private sector can,' I have a problem with that because what program have they done efficiently? It just doesn't seem to work."
Still, Gundlach adds, "But I do agree there are way too many people without affordable health care and the system itself is out of control."
And he says his own health care plan, which he also offers to his employees, is a high-deductible plan that doesn't cover very much.
"I wouldn't call it a Cadillac plan. It's really a catastrophic plan," he says. "It's an HMO plan and it has a higher deductible. So it's not terribly expensive for premiums but you're not getting ton for it either."
Gundlach, whose company, TransformPOS, develops "point-of-sale" computer systems for the retail and restaurant industry, wishes he could get better health coverage, but blames health care providers as well as insurance companies for overly steep costs and wasteful practices
"Just look around Madison and you see three or four big, big health care clinics that have been opened in the past year or two and there's nobody there," Gundlach complains. "They're built in anticipation and they're building because you need to have that in order to attract the right doctors or the right physician groups and there's a lot of waste in there.
"I look at the high-priced cardiac centers and cancer centers. Why do there need to be four of those in the city of Madison? You're competing for high-priced items and it's so inefficient that you know everybody's paying extra for that. So from a fiscally conservative point of view, it doesn't make a lot of sense."
Gundlach does like some aspects of the Obama plan.
He agrees that insurance plans should not deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
And he also agrees with the Obama plan's emphasis on preventive care.
Gundlach noticed that his own plan began to cover wellness exams and certain screenings after the Obama health care act was passed.
"When it came up for renewal, they did have some more preventive care built into it because that was the law. They had to," Gundlach said. "The rates went up a little bit, but not a huge amount, and I do think those things are positive."
But Gundlach said he doesn't know enough about the Affordable Care Act to know what else should be kept or discarded.
He's wary of many aspects of the plan, as he understands it.
"I'm not in favor of throwing millions of people on Medicaid and drastically expanding what the states have to pay to cover that," he said. "And I'm not a fan of health care exchanges. For small businesses, it sounds like a good idea, but I'm not sure. I'd have to learn a bit more about it, I guess."
And as a firm supporter of Gov. Scott Walker, Gundlach said he'd stand by the governor if he follows through on his stance to wait until at least the November elections to follow federal health care reforms.
"I did see that," Gundlach said of Walker's comments last week in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Health Care Act. "It's political. I'm not in favor of the law either and I am in favor of him and I think he's making a stand, and I guess I'd say I'm in favor of it."