Why, in these dire times, are companies in Wisconsin profiting from an on-going, obscure federal health program? This particular program reimburses employers for health care costs of workers who retire early and are ineligible for Medicare.
The program was created through a provision in the health care reform law that was approved in March 2010. It was aimed at ensuring that workers who are at least 55 and retire before age 65 have health insurance. The program is aimed at helping private and public employers maintain health care coverage for early retirees until key provisions of the new law take effect in January 2014.
More than 200 sponsors of health care insurance plans in the state have been approved for funding, and 74 have already received $67.6 million through the Early Retirement Reinsurance Program. Among the largest recipients are the Wisconsin Education Association Insurance Trust, $18.1 million; the Wisconsin Retirement System, $14.2 million; Milwaukee County, $2.5 million; Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Group, $1.9 million; and Operating Engineers Local 169, $1.2 million.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) set aside $5 billion for the program, but it has attracted such huge interest the department stopped accepting applications in May after having spent about half its funds in less than a year.
Some Republicans and conservative health care analysts have branded the program as a "slush fund" for corporations that don't need the subsidy. They say the government should not be handing out unneeded subsidies at a time when the nation is $14.3 trillion in debt.