(Host) The Vermont House is getting ready for a showdown over legislation that’s designed to provide health care coverage to uninsured Vermonters. It’s become a partisan issue in the House because Democrats and Republicans are supporting very different approaches.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) At the beginning of the session, Governor Jim Douglas proposed a health care plan to help reduce the number of Vermonters who don’t have insurance coverage. The House Ways and Means Committee dropped several key provisions from the proposal but it did leave two major sections in the bill.
The first encourages small businesses that currently don’t offer insurance to their employees to make this coverage available. Companies that take this step will be awarded tax credits. It’s estimated that the cost of this program will be between $5 million and $10 million. The second provision allows insurance companies to offer discounts to people who have adopted healthy lifestyles.
House Democrats unveiled their own plan on Wednesday afternoon. It’s a proposal they say will cost no money and will insure twice as many people as the governor’s plan. Lincoln Representative Michael Fisher says the proposal will allow uninsured people and businesses that don’t offer coverage to purchase policies that are 25 percent cheaper than regular premiums. Fisher says this 25 percent figure represents the amount of money private insurance companies have to charge their customers to make up for the medical cost shift. That’s money that’s lost through the underpayment of government programs and the uncompensated care to uninsured individuals:
(Fisher) “If our goal is to make the system stronger and reduce the cost shift, our plan is much more effective at that. If our goal is to be fiscally responsible our plan costs no taxpayer dollars and presents no drain on the General Fund – while the governor’s costs between $10 million and $15 million. To me it’s a no brainer, this is a much stronger plan.”
(Kinzel) The governor says it’s too late in the session to consider the Democrats’ plan and he’s convinced his own approach makes more sense:
(Douglas) “We have a number of companies that have discontinued their health insurance coverage because it’s gotten so expensive. So I think we ought to offer an incentive to companies that have not offered it. To do so there obviously is a cost in terms of the tax credit to the General Fund. But if we’re going to improve the marketplace [to] cover more Vermonters, I think it’s a cost worth paying.”
(Kinzel) The full House is expected to debate both proposals on Thursday afternoon.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.