(Host) House Democratic leaders are hoping to finalize the details of their new Health Care reform plan by the end of the week.
A number of Vermont business groups say they have an open mind about the proposal.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) The plan will provide low and moderate income uninsured Vermonters with a state subsidy to help them purchase a comprehensive benefits policy. The eligibility levels will be roughly 35 thousand dollars for an individual and 50 thousand dollars for a family.
The committee is still tinkering with some of the details but it’s likely that the plan will be financed with both state and federal funds – the state’s share could be at least 30 million dollars a year when the proposal is fully implemented.
It will be the responsibility of the House Ways and Means committee to recommend a specific funding package.
While some lawmakers want to extend the state sales tax to soda and junk food, Committee chairman Michael Obuchowski does not:
(Obuchowski) “Expanding the sales tax to cover anything that’s not covered now is going to be a very tough sell with yours truly because I live in the Connecticut River valley and I’ve seen what the sales tax has done to the economy up and down the Connecticut River valley.”
(Kinzel) Instead, Obuchowski appears more willing to consider raising the cigarette tax and tapping into some of the state’s tobacco settlement money that the governor wants to spend on a new college scholarship program:
(Obuchowski) “The first step is to look at dollars that are coming into state government that haven’t been spent that should be spent on health care and utilize those first and reduce the amount that needs to be raised by taxes.”
(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll oppose any plan that raises taxes – his own subsidy proposal doesn’t require a tax increase because it offers fewer benefits.
The governor’s plan does require individuals who are offered coverage at work to enroll in these programs rather than sign up for Medicaid.
Duane Marsh is the director of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. He says it will cost businesses roughly 50 million dollars a year to provide these benefits and he sees little difference between the governor’s mandate and a tax increase:
(Marsh) “Even though it’s not a tax it is going to be a cost and we look at costs the same way whether it’s a tax or increased people unto your payroll so it’s the same kind of decision making process that we’ll go through for both whether they’re call a tax or not.”
(Kinzel) The Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security is a coalition of roughly 2 dozen labor and consumer groups.
Greg Marchildon, the director of AARP, thinks the House plan is a significant step forward:
(Marchildon) “We think what the House is going to do is really provide a roadmap for the state to get to a place where we can provide coverage to every single citizen in the state of Vermont for a price that they can afford.”
(Kinzel) It’s possible that the bill could on the House floor for debate before Town Meeting Day.
For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.