Governor won’t sign Legislature’s health reform bill

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(Host) Negotiations in Montpelier over health reform legislation broke down on Friday. Governor Douglas says the bill agreed to by lawmakers is unacceptable and he threatened to veto the legislation unless it’s changed next week.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

“You go first and we’ll close that puppy out.” (Applause.)

(Dillon) With handshakes and applause, members of the House and Senate conference committee agreed to a health care reform bill that’s taken almost two years of work in Montpelier.

Representative Topper McFaun is a Republican from Barre and a member of the House negotiating team.

(McFaun) “I believe that we’ve done a very good job. And the way we got there is through compromise. We compromised with each other. And we compromised with members of the administration when it was appropriate and necessary.”

(Dillon) The lawmakers say they worked to resolve differences with Governor Jim Douglas. But in the end, one major obstacle remained.

The administration objected to a provision that would make the state responsible for the new Catamount health plan if private insurance companies fail to offer the new product.

Douglas says he’s still hoping to resolve the issue before the Legislature adjourns. But he says the bill will not become law in its current form.

(Douglas) “I don’t understand it. They’ve really chosen to put partisanship over progress. And that’s disappointing. And I’m not giving up. Politically it might be easier for to sign this bill. It would be easier for me to sign this bill and just go on and say we got close enough for government work. But that’s not good enough for me. My responsibility as a public servant is to think about the taxpayers now and in the future and not to do something that places them at a substantial disadvantage.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers say they have firm promises from private insurance companies that they will offer the new product. But they say they need a state back-up plan if circumstances changes.

Chittenden Senator Jim Leddy says the legislature accepted the administration’s argument that the health plan be offered by the private sector.

(Leddy) “Given all the work we’ve done, given the significant movement we made toward allowing Governor Douglas his private insurance plan. We felt we must have that safety net. We must have that default provision in our legislation.”

(Dillon) Paul Harrington is executive vice president of the Vermont Medical Society, which represents the state’s physicians. He says he hopes the governor will sign the bill.

(Harrington) “The Medical Society believes this is a good bill and we hope the Legislature has addressed the governor’s technical concerns and that he sign it into law so we won’t be back at this next year with more and more Vermonters lacking health insurance.”

(Dillon) Douglas says he’ll keep working with lawmakers to change the bill. Changes, however, are unlikely at this point since the key conference committee has already finished its work.

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

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