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Insurance commissioner: Wisconsin in 'great shape' with exchanges set to begin

Wisconsin's health care marketplace is ready for Tuesday's rollout, says Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel.

"We're in great shape, as long as the exchanges go live and get running on Tuesday," Nickel said on Sunday's "Upfront with Mike Gousha," produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com .

Although Wisconsin is one of many states that opted for a federally managed marketplace, the insurance commissioner still regulates the health care plans offered through exchanges in the state. Nickel said his office is focused on getting information to up to 700,000 Wisconsin residents that could seek insurance: mostly Medicare recipients making more than 100 percent of the poverty line and the currently uninsured.

The insurance commissioner's office staged 13 town hall meetings around the state to distribute information about the exchanges and to direct residents to visit www.healthcare.gov after Oct. 1 to find rate information. Nickel compared the web page functionality to retail sites like Orbitz.com .

"You're going to plug your information in and you will then see a list of plans that are available," said Nickel. "That part of it is fairly easy."

He said his office didn't release rate information ahead of the marketplace launch because there are too many variables influencing coverage costs. Insurance company filings indicate premiums will rise, according to Nickel, but federal subsidies will counteract the increase for eligible buyers.

"At the end of the day, the premium is still the premium," said Nickel. "That insurance company that they're with is still going to get whatever that number is."

Advertising, used by many states to inform residents about new healthcare options, was rejected as an outreach tactic by the Insurance Commissioner's office.

"'I'm the government; I'm here to sell you something.' How many people are going to go buy it?" asked Nickel.

He pointed to the introduction of the Medicare prescription drug plan, saying recipients tended to turn to their pharmacist for advice in making a decision. Nickel recommended visiting local insurance agencies for guidance.

"People don't just listen to the government," said Nickel. "They go to people they trust; our message is go to someone you trust."

Also on the program, Rich Budinger, president of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association, said existing regulations and standards provide sufficient oversight of Wisconsin's growing sand mining industry.

"There's a tremendous amount of history with sand mining in Wisconsin," said Budinger.

He acknowledged that a growing demand for "frac sand," silica used in hydraulic fracture mining, has caused the number of sand mines to grow from five to several dozen, mostly in the western part of the state. According to Budinger, decades old regulations on industrial sand mining sufficiently cover new mines.

Budinger said the growing demand for silica is creating thousands of jobs in the state and millions of dollars in revenue, fueled by a desire to decrease dependence on foreign sources of oil and gas. He said he can't speculate about the future of the industry.

The Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association consists of four member companies: U.S. Silica, Unimin, Badger Mining and Fairmount Minerals. Budinger said he could only speak for the companies in the association.

"We adopted a very strict code of conduct based on environmental regulations and essentially setting a standard for responsible mining," said Budinger.

Sand mines are subject to regulation under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and emissions from processing plants are regulated, as are the volumes of groundwater permitted for use in mining, Budinger said. Mine sites are regularly checked for potential harm to workers by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"We feel that if we're protecting our workforce in the occupational setting where the activity is going on, then every foot outside of that occupational setting is also protected," said Budinger

See more from the show: http://www.wisn.com/politics/upfront

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