House committee begins work on health care reform

Print More

(Host) House Speaker Gaye Symington had a pep talk for members of the new Health Care Committee on Tuesday. She told them that it’s time to move beyond ideology and partisan politics as they tackle health care reform.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) On its first full day of work, the House Health Care Committee heard some ambitious marching orders. House Speaker Gaye Symington brought the committee into her office and urged members to look closely at how health care is delivered and paid for in Vermont.

(Symington) “I really want this to be an open conversation and not feel like you have to be guided by restraints around your political party or your label. This is, how do we serve Vermont? And how do we get health care in a more rational way to Vermonters?”

(Dillon) The committee’s first priority is legislation to allow Vermonters to re-import prescription drugs from Canada and other countries. House and Senate leaders say they want to pass that bill by Town Meeting Day.

But at the same time, the committee wants to have a broader debate on how to cover the 63,000 Vermonters without health insurance. Symington says she wants all policy choices on the table, such as health savings accounts – known as HSAs – and a single-payer system to pay for coverage.

(Symington) “You’re in the beginning. This is an opportunity. And as you start off, don’t come to the table thinking you can’t ask about this or you can’t ask about that. I don’t want either HSAs or single-payer to be a dirty word.”

(Dillon) Symington said that she’s personally skeptical of health savings accounts, which allow people to put money aside – usually tax free – to pay their medical bills. But she says she won’t tell Health Committee Chairman John Tracy to reject the idea.

Tracy gave his committee members a homework assignment last weekend. They read up on Vermont’s last attempt at comprehensive health care reform in 1992-93. That effort collapsed and Tracy ticks off some lessons he says he’s tried from the legislative failure.

(Tracy) “Keeping people engaged. Making sure you have everybody at the table and keeping them at the table. And make sure that you have pragmatic realization about what you can achieve in a certain period of time. Identify what the goal is. Stick to the goal. Have steps along the way that can show people that you are making progress toward your goal.”

(Dillon) Like Symington, Tracy says he wants the panel to set its sights high and look at all options, including a single-payer system. However, Republican leaders and Governor Jim Douglas are opposed to the idea.

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

Comments are closed.