Douglas won’t support new health care plan with tax increase

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(Host) House Democrats are drafting a new health care reform plan that will provide comprehensive benefits to uninsured Vermonters based on their ability to pay for this coverage.

Governor Jim Douglas says he’s willing to look at the plan but he says he won’t support it if it requires a tax increase.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The House Health Care committee believes that roughly 40% of the state’s uninsured population will take advantage of this program after it’s been in place for several years.

The plan makes a comprehensive benefits package available to uninsured Vermonters on a sliding scale fee basis.

Although the details are still being worked out, it’s likely that the eligibility levels for the program will be around $35,000 for an individual and roughly $70,000 for a family.

The premiums for the program would be adjusted based on a person’s income level.

Preliminary estimates put the overall cost of the program at about $55 million a year. The draft plan envisions having the federal government finance at least half of the overall cost.

Health Care committee chairman John Tracy says the state’s portion could come from new taxes or using a share of the state’s new “global commitment” Medicaid reform program.

(Tracy) “This is the first step to universal access to health care for Vermonters right now Vermonters who have insurance are paying for health care for Vermonters that don’t when they receive it in the emergency room or however they receive it so we’re trying to find a way to get the uninsured in there to start a process of taking some of the burden off the people who are already paying for health insurance.”

(Kinzel) Tracy says the program will include a provision to help people with chronic illnesses better manage their health.

It’s estimated that chronic care costs account for roughly 75% of the state’s entire health care budget.

(Tracy) “Because a lot of people have chronic illnesses that haven’t manifested themselves it’s much better to engage a person in managing a chronic illness than saying, gee I’m really sorry we’re having to cut off your foot because your diabetes is so far advanced.'”

(Kinzel)Governor Jim Douglas says he’s interested in the proposal but he’s making it clear that he won’t support it if requires new tax revenues. Douglas has also proposed an insurance premium subsidy program but his plan is less expensive because it offers less coverage.

(Douglas) “Thematically I think we’re on the same page but there are a lot of things I still need to know about that such as whether any taxes are proposed to be raised. There’s no need for that. I’ve proposed a health care reform plan that requires no new taxes.”

(Kinzel)The House Health Care committee is expected to release a final draft of their plan next week.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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