House Passes Health Care Reform Bill

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(Host) After two full days of debate, the House, on Thursday, put its stamp of approval on a new health care reform bill. The final vote was 86 – 58. The vote fell largely along party lines. Most Democrats supported it and most Republican opposed it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The debate revealed two very different philosophies about how to deal with the escalating cost of health care in Vermont.

The plan proposed by the House Health Care committee provides coverage for all Vermonters – coverage that wouldn’t be linked to a person’s place of employment. The proposal would be publicly financed. Although the bill doesn’t identify a specific funding source, a new payroll tax would most likely be part of the package. The bill also consolidates a number of state oversight agencies.

Mendon Representative, Harry Chen, who is a doctor, urged his colleagues to support the bill.

(Chen) “We call it a crisis that one-in-ten Vermonters lack health insurance and suffers from the very real consequences of putting off health care, until minor concerns become major medical emergencies requiring expensive care. We call it a ‘crisis’ that U.S. health care costs, already the highest in the world, are increasing by more than ten percent annually, and are unaffordable for businesses, municipalities and individuals.”

(Kinzel) Chen argued that it makes a lot of sense to adopt a publicly financed health care system.

(Chen) “Madame Speaker H.524 sets out a bold vision that health care is a shared public good, like roads, police and fire protection. The new system embraces the best of Vermont’s current health care network, its professionals and institutions.”

(Kinzel) The Republicans offered an alternative plan that builds on the existing consumer market system. Their proposal offers subsidies to help low and middle income Vermonters pay for insurance. It provides tax credits for small businesses. And it permits insurance companies to offer discounts to healthy people.

It also allows individuals to purchase insurance from out-of-state companies that could offer policies that don’t include many of the mandates that exist in Vermont, like mental health, chiropractic and maternity benefits.

Barre Town Republican Tom Koch urged his colleagues to reject the Democrats’ approach

(Koch) “This needs to be studied before we commit to this course of action. To commit to the program now, says we’re on the road, we have a road map and we’re going to follow it wherever it leads us is, I think, a terrible, tragic mistake.”

Over the course of the two-day debate, the Democrats were able to repeatedly defeat Republican efforts to derail the legislation. The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Governor Jim Douglas strongly opposes the bill and is expected to veto it if it reaches his desk this year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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