Coalition Attempts to Solve Problem of Health Care Costs

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(Host) A new coalition has formed in Vermont to tackle an old problem. A diverse group of business people, non-profit organizations and others are working together to find ways to reform the state’s health care system. Coalition members say that health care costs are rising out of control and that more and more people are unable to afford health insurance.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The new coalition was put together by Chittenden County Senator Jim Leddy, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and Lisa Ventriss, the president of the Vermont Business Roundtable.

Leddy says that he’s seen reform efforts founder in the past because people weren’t able to set aside partisan or policy differences and work together toward a solution.

(Leddy) “What occurred to me is that we need to come out of our corners. We need to sit down together, to take the best information, to take the best ideas, to see if we can’t forward together a coalition to work together to address a problem that affects all of us.”

(Dillon) Leddy worked with the Vermont Business Roundtable which represents 120 chief executives of the state leading employers. Together, they’ve brought in groups representing health insurance companies, senior citizens, physicians, unions, and churches.

Lisa Ventriss is president of the Business Roundtable. She pointed out that since 1996, medical costs in Vermont have increased 88 percent, from $1.7 to $3.2 billion.

(Ventriss) “We believe that through collaborative efforts, well-balanced reform, strong leadership, and a balanced approach, the current level of health care spending in Vermont can attain far better results for our state and its people.”

(Dillon) Participants in this new coalition acknowledge that they’re boldly going where many others have gone before. Over the last 20 years, various blue ribbon panels, government commissions and legislative summer study committees have all tackled health care reform.

The organizers say a major difference this time is that the crisis has grown much worse. They say there’s a commitment from all sides to work together.

Stephan Morse, a former Speaker of the House and president of the Windham Foundation, will chair the coalition.

(Morse) “It’s not an administration point of view, or legislative point of view. It’s really a collaborative, diverse group of people who have agreed to sit down, work together, hopefully check their guns at the door, and work for the betterment of the state of Vermont.”

(Dillon) The coalition doesn’t yet have a set timetable for its work. It will meet for the first time on July 19. The members say it’s not likely that they’ll have reform recommendations ready for the legislative session in January.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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