House Advances Health Care Initiative; Final Vote Looming

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(Host) The House at this hour is debating legislation that would change the way that many Vermonters receive health care coverage beginning in 2014.

The heart of the bill is a consumer marketplace exchange where individuals and all small businesses would be required to purchase their health insurance.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) House Health Care Chairman Michael Fisher says the legislation will make coverage more affordable for middle-income Vermonters because they’ll be eligible for sizeable federal subsidies.

Fisher says the goal is to encourage small businesses to drop their employee coverage so that their workers can take advantage of these subsidies. He says this approach is good for employers and their employees.

(Fisher) "This is a middle class tax relief bill. It will greatly expand regular Vermonters’ ability to afford access to care. This bill gives us a new freedom for small businesses to focus on what they do best."

(Kinzel) The key issue in the daylong debate was whether or not participation in the exchange should be mandatory or voluntary.  Many Republicans, like Milton Rep. Ron Hubert supported the voluntary approach.

(Hubert) "Trust me, if I find that at the end of the first year that I could save $800 by being in the exchange, I’d probably be one of the first ones there. But at the outset, one of the things that we don’t want to be is, we don’t want to be the guinea pigs."

(Kinzel) And Vergennes Rep. Gregory Clark said it was wrong to force people into the exchange.

(Clark) "Vermonters are always willing to be led to the water trough. But, man, they get irritated when they’re heads get forced into the trough."

(Kinzel) But Fisher argued that it’s essential to have a mandatory approach to have as many Vermonters as possible to take full advantage of the federal subsidies.

(Fisher) "So I appreciate the concern about not wanting to mandate and let things roll out the way they want in their own timeline. But we’re talking about significant help for Vermonters here that I don’t want to let go by."

(Kinzel) And Barre City Rep. Paul Poirier said the new system would have the best chance for success if participation in the exchange is mandatory.

(Poirier) "The worst thing we can do for health care reform, Mr. Speaker, is to create a system that we’re setting up to fail. And that’s why I believe we need to all be in."

(Kinzel) The voluntary approach was rejected by a vote of 80-57.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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