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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Overcast
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When gold is not good enough
Insurer's rules require patient to make 52-mile trips
Tony Testolin: 'It seems like bureaucratic nonsense to me.'
Tony Testolin: 'It seems like bureaucratic nonsense to me.'

Tony Testolin notes that the folks at Dean Health Plan, no surprise, "keep advertising that they're looking out for the people." You couldn't prove it by him: "They're looking out for the bottom line."

A 78-year-old retired state employee, Testolin pays $99 a month for Dean Care Gold, a Medicare supplement plan. Currently, he goes to Dean for chemotherapy treatments.

Until June 2006, Testolin got these treatments at Dean's Fish Hatchery Clinic. But Dean Health stopped offering chemo at this location. So now he must drive all the way to Dean's new clinic on John Q. Hammonds Drive. From his Sun Prairie home, it's a 52-mile round trip that takes about 90 minutes. Treatments (he's had 22 since last fall) are usually scheduled for three days in a row.

Making this trek more irksome is the knowledge that Dean has a clinic at Columbus Community Hospital, which according to MapQuest is 15 miles and 18 minutes away. Testolin says he spoke to a Dean Care rep, who was unhelpful, and sent a follow-up email, which was ignored.

"They say Dean Care Gold is only good in Dane and Rock County," relates Testolin. And Columbus Hospital, where his oncologist practices, is "500 feet over the county line" in Columbia County.

"It seems like bureaucratic nonsense to me," wrote Testolin, in his unanswered email.

Jessica Carlson, a spokeswoman for Dean Health Plan, confirms that "our Dean Care Gold plan is only for residents in Dane and Rock Counties." But those signed up for the more expensive Dean Care Select - for someone in Testolin's age bracket, the cost would be $151 a month - can go to Columbus Hospital.

This hospital, explains Carlson, is "not contracted under our Dean Care Gold plan." But she says Dean does make "exceptions" and has a grievance process for its customers.

Testolin says no one at Dean told him he could seek an exception, file a grievance or shorten his commute by upgrading his plan. And he questions why such hassles ought to be part of the deal.

"Something seems to be basically wrong with our health-care system that you have to go through these gyrations," says Testolin. "You almost have to be a lawyer to figure out what's covered and what's not."

A lack of Common Sense

The much-ballyhooed Common Sense Coalition, which blended business and labor interests to bring a little you-know-what to city government, is dead. Long live the Common Sense Coalition

The group, which purported to represent 5,000-7,000 citizens through its various member groups, fired executive director Michael Quigley last fall, and never hired a replacement. It hasn't met in several months and recently closed its downtown Madison office.

"We just don't feel it's worth going forward with right now," says developer Curt Brink, a founding member. He says the group started out as "a broad-based coalition of all different viewpoints" but ended up "becoming too narrow."

Brink faults Quigley for pushing an anti-loitering ordinance that some saw as an attempt to create conflict with Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz (it worked): "That was Mike Quigley's issue. That was only Mike Quigley's issue, and he was going to do it his way and screw everyone else."

Businessman Grant Frautschi, a founding member, makes a similar point less harshly. He says the coalition was initially able to focus on common(-sense) issues, but toward the end shifted from policy to politics, which proved too divisive. Quigley, he feels, "had a little more political ambition than the Common Sense Coalition."

Quigley has a different perspective. He says the coalition's business-side members were unprepared for the "blowback" that inevitably comes with efforts to "change the political status quo." They feared this would work against their personal business interests, which they put "ahead of the goals of the organization."

Frautschi and board member Dan Guerra, also a small business owner, both peg the coalition as a victim of its own success - which sort of defies common sense, since success usually makes groups stronger.

"A lot of us kind of feel we accomplished a lot of what we existed for," says Guerra, who credits the coalition with getting the city to add police officers and raise the profile of economic development issues. "Some things are really driven by need. Personally, I question whether there's a need out there now."

Frautschi adds that while the coalition has gone belly up, "the common-sense approach to working with government and trying to improve things in Madison will come along again."

True, but isn't that just...? Oh, never mind.

Conservatives of the nation, unite

Republicans in the state Assembly are not the only ones sharpening their knives over the UW School of Workers. A national right-wing group this spring made a voluminous request for documents regarding the school's programs, including training materials for upcoming conferences on - gasp! - union leadership skills and bargaining power.

The Landmark Legal Foundation, which calls itself "the premier public interest law firm fighting for conservative principles in America," received nearly 2,100 pages of records - after substantially narrowing its original request. Most concerned funding sources and disbursements.

Michael O'Neill, the foundation's lawyer, fobbed a request for comment onto a spokesperson, who did not call back. The group's website is silent on the School of Workers but does fulminate about the national teachers union and "judicial activism and the radical judges who use it to advance an extremist social agenda."

The School of Workers has aroused the enmity of some GOP lawmakers, who feel the state should not be funding pro-worker - as opposed to pro-business - causes.

The Assembly budget, now in conference committee, would eliminate state support for the School of Workers (and the UW Law School and Wisconsin Public Radio and Television). But, in what might in other circumstances be funny, it actually cuts more funding than the school gets.

According to UW System spokesman David Giroux, the GOP ax-wielders swung at the wrong amount, slashing $932,000 in funding over the next biennium. In fact, state support to the School of Workers totals just $474,091.

"To me, that's evidence of how quickly they put this together, without a lot of thought and without any discussion with us," says Giroux.

Hmmm, how much time do you suppose they spent talking to the folks at the Landmark Legal Foundation?

And these people are allowed to vote!

For months the city of Madison has been telling residents that new plastic garbage bins would arrive in July and August but should not be used until the week of Sept. 10. This was conveyed via newsprint, airwave and a boldface notice affixed to each bin.

Guess what a fair number of people are doing anyway? You guessed right. (Credit Isthmus readers with being an exceptionally bright bunch.)

"There's probably about a 5% usage rate," says George Dreckmann, the city's recycling czar. He riffs off the old saw: "You can't educate all of the people all of the time."

One man who called to grouse when his prematurely binned trash was not collected told Dreckmann he does not read newspapers or watch the TV news and tossed the in-bin notice because he thought "it was just propaganda."

Expect the city's dummkopfs to also struggle mightily with the city's request that they bag before they bin. But Dreckmann notes that this is not a rule: "You're the one who has to clean it, so if you don't care, I guess we don't." He doesn't let the subject drop. "If you don't mind having a putrid stink in your garage...."

Got it, George. But some people won't.

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