Douglas and Democrats look for compromise on health care reform

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas and Democratic leaders are searching for a compromise health care reform plan but the two sides are having a difficult time making progress.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) In the next day or two, House and Senate negotiators are expected to reach agreement on a health care reform bill – the big question at the Statehouse is whether or not lawmakers will be willing to make additional changes to satisfy the concerns of Governor Jim Douglas.

Douglas and the lawmakers both support the idea of making government subsidies available to help uninsured Vermonters get health care benefits. They disagree on how to provide the coverage.

Douglas wants all private insurance companies to be required to offer a new, limited benefits policy, that would be available only to uninsured people.

He argues this is the only way to be certain that the plan doesn’t become a government program like Medicaid:

(Douglas) “I want to make sure that it’s sustainable and by having a private insurance company provide the coverage, then the state can limit its risk. That has to be a key part of this. We can’t face another program with a multi hundred million dollar shortfall similar to what we have in Medicaid.”

(Kinzel) House Health Care chairman John Tracy is clearly frustrated by this approach.

Tracy believes that government oversight is essential to make certain that the private companies don’t reduce the benefit package or dramatically increase the rates for the policy.

He doesn’t see the governor’s approach as much of a compromise.

(Tracy) “The reality is if we just create another product and put it in the market, it’s like throwing a log into a stream that’s at flood water level. The rate of increases in that product will pick up speed just like every other insurance product out there that we can’t afford now. It’s just doing business the same way. The system we have right now doesn’t work and it seems like the governor just wants to do more of it. We can’t do it that way.”

(Kinzel) Democratic leaders also want companies that don’t offer coverage to their employees to pay a fee that would be roughly 365 dollars per employee.

Douglas opposes this plan but says he’s willing to consider a provision to phase it in several years from now if the number of companies offering insurance coverage to their employees continues to decline.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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