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State senate candidates provide answers to senior-related questions

Both incumbent Democratic 12th District State Senator Jim Holperin and his Republican challenger in next Tuesday's election, Kim Simac, were invited to take part in a candidate forum Friday at the Oneida County Senior Center. Holperin was in attendance, but Simac did not attend the event.

Below are the questionnaire responses submitted by both candidates before the forum took place.

1. Do you support the unprecedented power given to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary to change any Medicaid-funded programs such as SeniorCare and Family Care and cut over $500 million in Medicaid programs without public input and legislative oversight? Would you pledge to always request a Joint Finance Committee public hearing on any such changes?

Holperin: No ... and I voted against the budget repair bill that took this oversight authority away from the legislature. Yes, I would commit to making such a request.

Simac: I do believe that the Joint Finance Committee should hold a public hearing on all matters relating to the budget and important programs. I believe it is the part of the legislature to hold hearings and get input from all powers and authorities, including department heads and the public, and then use that information and feedback to create a policy that can work inside the budget framework.

2. Do you support the popular and cost-effective Wisconsin's SeniorCare prescription drug program? Will you unequivocally support the State of Wisconsin to apply for a waiver to extend SeniorCare past the Dec. 31, 2012 deadline?

Holperin: Yes, I have always supported SeniorCare with my vote and through advocacy for the program at the state and federal level. Similarly, I support the state's application for a waiver to extend the program for at least the next two years.

Simac: I do support the SeniorCare Prescription Drug Program, SeniorCare was crafted by Republicans to make sure that prescription drugs can be affordable for seniors in the face of ever increasing drug prices and closely mirrors Medicare Part D on the federal level. We need to ensure that the state has the power to negotiate a fair price with drug companies so that the enrollment fees and associated costs are maintained at a reasonable level so our seniors can get the treatment and life saving medication without having to worry about how they are going to pay for groceries.

3. Do you support the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups' proposal to enhance SeniorCare by changing the deductible to coinsurance which raises an additional $6 million (Legislative Fiscal Bureau) per year in drug company rebates? If not, why not?

Holperin: Yes.

Simac: I believe the deductible is a fair system as it is in place, it is a means-tested program that assigns different rates, deductibles and spenddowns based on income and ability to pay. Without seeing a bill or proposal to switch to coinsurance I believe it would be irresponsible to make a statement in support or against it. An opt-in coinsurance policy however, would have to be offset in costs by something else in the budget, or benefits package.

4. Do you support collecting sales taxes on Internet sales (e-fairness) to create a level playing field for Main Street businesses and increase revenues to support vital programs for the elderly?

Holperin: Yes. I voted to include Wisconsin in the national Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) which is a voluntary pact. I also support continued efforts to persuade Congress to approve federal legislation allowing states to require out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales taxes.

Simac: I believe one of the problems with healthcare is that there are so many discrepancies and the lack of transparency in the cost of care, that includes prescription drugs. Levying a sales tax on Internet transactions doesn't lower the cost of healthcare it makes the more affordable option more expensive. We should be looking at ways to make healthcare and prescription drugs cheaper and that should include FDA approved Internet suppliers. True competition will help lower the prices of prescription drugs, we shouldn't be looking to increase prices because of taxes, and this will only make this situation more difficult for our seniors.

5. The Affordable Care Act has been adopted at the federal level and contains many provisions that affect Wisconsin's older adults and children. Do you support implementing or repealing the Affordable Care Act and why?

Holperin: This is a federal issue. The Wisconsin State Senate will not have an opportunity to vote on the topic. However, a statement of support or opposition for a federal matter does speak to a state level elected official's general philosophy regarding the government's role in assuring a basic level of health care for all citizens. I support implementing the Affordable Care Act, although I believe various modifications to the Act could be reasonable and should be considered by Congress.

Simac: I do not support this piece of legislation. I agree, provisions in The Affordable Care Act have an effect on older adults and children, it takes billions of dollars out of Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement that would be going to BadgerCare and SeniorCare. There are other ways we can work to make sure that insurance coverage is reliable and affordable, but I do not believe that gutting these state programs in exchange for a wide-ranging and broad federal system is the answer.

6. Will you pledge to oppose Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan to privatize Medicare and to cut Medicaid support to the states? If no, why?

Holperin: This is a federal issue, so a pledge on the topic by a state elected official has no practical effect. However, a statement of support or opposition for a federal matter does speak to a state level elected official's general philosophy regarding government's long-standing commitment to protect older Americans from economic uncertainty by administering a program which provides basic health care coverage to those over a certain age. I oppose Congressman Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare and to cut Medicaid support to the states, as it is currently configured.

Simac: As a state senator I would have little to no input on what the federal government ends up doing with a federal plan for federal programs. As a state senator I will have to work with the federal funds that come to this state as a part of Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements and do my best to craft a budget that makes sure that these programs effectively reach and help those who need it the most.

7. Do you support full disclosure of all corporate campaign contribution expenditures on partisan and nonpartisan elections? Why or why not?

Holperin: Yes. If corporations are to enjoy the same first amendment free speech rights as individual persons, those corporations must be bound by the same campaign disclosure requirements as individual persons.

Simac: Campaign finance is a large and complex matter. Regulation of issue ads, full disclosure for all expenditures, and reforms to contribution limits are all a matter of heated debate and discussion. What I do know is that expenditures from outside organizations have been on the rise in Wisconsin for many years and setting new records it seems annually. Campaign expenditures from these organizations against me will top several million dollars. As a senator when campaign finance reform legislation is put before the entire Senate I will give it serious consideration.

8. If you voted for Gov. Walker's 2011-13 state budget, how do you justify a $70 million tax increase on the poor and at the same time provide over $200 million in tax cuts to businesses?

Holperin: I voted against the 2011 - 2013 state budget.

Simac: Not having been in office I did not have an opportunity to vote on the state budget. While not perfect I do agree that its an improvement over the previous budget which put us in this current predicament. In 2009, the Democratic controlled legislature cut over $1.1 billion from matching Medicaid funds and BadgerCare and used almost 1.5 billion dollars in one-time federal stimulus dollars to cover the costs and mask the problem. Without the benefit of these federal dollars it is a seemly impossible task to make up for that difference. The majority of tax cuts for business are not for existing businesses but are designed to attract business to Wisconsin. They cannot pay into the system unless they are here. Everybody has suffered in one way or another during this recession. I support efforts to attract new business to Wisconsin so we can bring not only the revenue to the state this would provide but also for the jobs it would bring which would also bring additional revenue to the state.


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