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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tom Still: Getting behind the Obamacare sign-up numbers; the (re)rise of the creative class


By Tom Still
Just when you thought you had the politics of the pro- and anti-Obamacare debate figured out, along come some pesky numbers to upset your thinking.

With the end of the open enrollment period set for late March, there are huge state-to-state differences in terms of people signing up for coverage through the federal Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," as its commonly called.

Wisconsin is among six Republican-led "red" states where official opposition to Obamacare has been stiff, but where sign-up rates are on target or even ahead of the game. Others are Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan and North Carolina.

Conversely, some Democratic "blue" states or jurisdictions are lagging: Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and the District of Columbia.

The answer may rest less in politics than in demographics. In Wisconsin, according the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 56,436 people had enrolled through Feb. 1. That was ahead of the government's sign-up goal of 48,980 for the state by that date. Of that total, only 20 percent are what health experts call "the invincibles" – young people 18 to 34 years old who often think they don't need health insurance. That compares to 25 percent in the young category nationally so far.

On the other end of the scale, 43 percent of Wisconsin's enrollees are between the ages of 55 to 64, compared to 31 percent nationally.

That means Wisconsin is among the states with the oldest profiles for Obamacare sign-ups so far, along with West Virginia and Maine. The Congressional Budget Office set a goal of 79,000 enrollees in Wisconsin by March 31; the national goal is about 7 million.

Connecticut stands at twice its Feb. 1 goal while neighboring Massachusetts, which pioneered the approach taken by Obama under then-Gov. Mitt Romney, stands at about 5 percent of its target. Go figure.

So far, the federal government has not delayed the requirement than uninsured individuals sign up. That means uncovered individuals who do not sign up by March 31 will face federal tax penalties that will grow over time. For uncovered people who don't sign up for coverage by March 31, the penalty is $95 per adult or 1 percent of annual income, whichever is higher. That penalty grows in succeeding years – and the sign-up periods will be more sharply defined.

Getting 'creative' with entrepreneurship

The last time you heard the phrase "creative economy" may have been a decade or so ago when author and researcher Richard Florida wrote "The Rise of the Creative Class," and there was an economic development scramble over whose city could be perceived as more hip than the next metro.

Of course, if you have to work at being hip, you probably aren't. But the concept of creativity, arts and the entrepreneurship has endured, so much so that a bill being debated in the Wisconsin Legislature could establish a "Creative Economy Development Initiative."

Anne Katz, executive director of Arts Wisconsin, testified Feb. 12 on the size of the economic opportunity – which extends to entrepreneurship in areas that don't necessarily involve high-tech startups, but are nonetheless innovative.

"Strengthening Wisconsin's creative industries is a critical strategy for the state and all of its communities to compete in the global economy, educate our children, engage residents, and to develop, attract and retain entrepreneurs and a high skilled work force through healthy, vibrant communities where people want to live, work, learn and play," Katz told a Senate committee.

Dun & Bradstreet estimates Wisconsin's creative sector includes about 12,000 businesses and employs nearly 50,000 people in full-time jobs – mostly with small, entrepreneurial companies. Americans for the Arts and the Wisconsin Arts Board report that Wisconsin's nonprofit arts and cultural sector is a $535-million industry, resulting in $65 million in local and state tax revenues, 22,872 full-time equivalent jobs and $479 million in resident income.

If approved, the "Creative Economy" initiative would be run through the Wisconsin Arts Board. A grant program requiring a $2 to $1 match would target for-profit and non-profit arts and community businesses, economic development groups and local governments.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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