Health Care Debate Takes Partisan Turn At Statehouse

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(Host) The health care debate at the Statehouse is taking a partisan turn as the House gets ready to consider the Governor’s plan. 

Republican leaders say the bill is being rushed through the Legislature.  But the Democrats argue the Republicans are trying to "sabotage" health care reform in Vermont.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There’s a good possibility that the major health care initiative of the session will be on the House floor next week for debate.

The bill creates a consumer marketplace exchange and it requires individuals and businesses with fewer than 50 employees to purchase their policies through the Exchange.

The legislation also gives the Green Mountain Care Board new regulatory authority to oversee health care in Vermont. 

Don Turner is the House Minority leader. He thinks things are moving much too fast and he says Vermont’s Exchange doesn’t need to be up and operating until January of 2014.

(Turner) "In reality we have another year to do it and with so many unanswered questions what’s the rush? Why do we need to do that?"

(Kinzel) Franklin senator Randy Brock thinks there’s another reason to postpone consideration of this bill and his concerns could emerge as a key issue in his campaign for governor. 

Brock says it’s a mistake for the Legislature to spend a lot of time creating an Exchange when the U.S. Supreme Court could rule that the President’s health care plan is unconstitutional. That decision is expected in June.

(Brock) "If that law is struck down or significant portions of it are altered by the Court’s decision, the entire single payer movement here in Vermont could be affected. We are dependent upon federal subsidies or money coming out of the Affordable Care Act. If that doesn’t happen then we’re going to need to start at square one."

(Kinzel) House Speaker Shap Smith says it’s critical to pass the bill this year and he says he’s not going to allow speculation over the Supreme Court’s decision to delay action in Vermont.

(Smith) "I don’t want to be rushing next session to put an Exchange in place and if it turns out that the Supreme Court overturns the law then we’ll move forward with other things but we need to do the right thing under the current law."

(Kinzel) Senate President John Campbell says it’s clear that the Republicans don’t like this bill and that they’ll do anything to try to derail it.

(Campbell) "We are the state of Vermont and we are not going to sit back based on what I consider to be political ploys on the part of individuals who are just trying to sabotage a health care system of this nature from going into place."

(Kinzel) The legislation still needs to be reviewed by the House Appropriations committee and it could be on the floor for debate as early as next Thursday.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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