Douglas and Democrats agree on health care reform

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas and Democratic leaders have agreed on health care reform. It’s a key compromise that clears the way for the Legislature to adjourn later this week.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The two sides shook hands on legislation that should cover 25,000 Vermonters who now don’t have health insurance.

The congenial and congratulatory mood was in marked contrast to last week when Governor Douglas threatened to veto the legislation. This time, Douglas praised House Speaker Gaye Symington for her work to reach a compromise.

(Douglas) “I want to thank all the legislators for coming to the table. I want to thank Speaker Symington in particular. We met last evening to continue this discussion and bring us to the point of making this announcement today.”

(Dillon) Symington and the governor resolved an impasse over the state’s role in the new Catamount health plan. The health plan will be state-subsidized but Governor Douglas had insisted that it be offered by private insurance companies. The Democrats wanted the state to step in, in case the private market fails to deliver the product.

The compromise says that private insurance companies have two years to offer the plan. If they don’t deliver, the state can mandate that they offer the coverage.

Symington said the breakthrough came when she met with the governor and explained her concerns that Vermonters still could be without coverage if private insurance companies don’t step forward.

She said the governor shared that concern and offered to have state government require the insurance coverage.

(Symington) “You know we were in an odd position last night in that I was the Democrat and four Republicans were trying to convince me that the answer was to mandate something of the insurance companies. But it provided for me the assurance that we weren’t going to have a two year gap before we would step in if there was no option for affordable health care for people who are uninsured.”

(Dillon) The agreement caps a two-year legislative effort to control health care costs and to extend coverage to the uninsured.

Chittenden Senator Jim Leddy chairs the Senate health committee. He says he was motivated primarily to end the injustice faced by people who can’t afford to pay for needed care.

(Leddy) “I came to learn that injustice has never been as urgent a motivating principle as insolvency. And we’re here because frankly we cannot afford to continue the way we’re going. But in addressing the issues of solvency we’ve taken remarkable steps to guarantee access and deal with injustice.”

(Dillon) The bill seeks to control health costs through better management of chronic diseases, such as diabetes. And because it will cover people who don’t have insurance, it should also ease the cost shift to those who do have coverage.

Representative Harry Chen is an emergency room physician from Mendon and a member of the House-Senate conference committee. He says one part of compromise is to make everyone just a bit uncomfortable.

(Chen) “I don’t believe that anybody could really have predicted that we would end up here. But I think there’s a lot of very good things in this bill. I think there’s a little bit for almost everyone not to like also and that’s perhaps why we’re here today all together.”

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

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