Progress made on health care reform bill

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(Host) There’s progress on health care reform legislation in Montpelier.

The House and Senate have agreed on the legislation. And the Douglas Administration says it’s on board with the general framework of the bill.

However, administration officials remain skeptical of the bill’s finances, and they want time to work out any technical problems.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Leaders of the health committees in the House and Senate say their work is done. Now, they say, it’s up to Governor Douglas to decide whether he wants to support the legislation.

Senator Jim Leddy is a Chittenden Democrat who chairs the Senate Health Committee.

(Leddy) “The bill that we will pass deserves to be law. It deserves to be law. And it deserves to incorporate the hopes of the people of this state and the opportunity to reach out to every Vermonter and say that you will get health care
When you need it and it will be good. And you will not be lined up as a beggar looking for a hand out when it comes to receiving health care from you citizens.”

(Dillon) The bill sets up a new insurance product offered to people who don’t have coverage. The state would require benefits packaged to be included. The program would be subsidized in part by the state but administered by private insurance companies.

That was a key concession by the Legislature. Governor Jim Douglas was strongly opposed to any plan that would by run by the state.

Both Leddy and House Health care Committee Chairman John Tracy said the legislature is done negotiating on the broad policy issues. John Tracy:

(Tracy) “This is economically the right thing to do, financially the right thing to do, health care wise the right thing to do and morally the right thing to do. And I think the average Vermonter will say, You know what? They went the extra mile to work with the administration. They really did.’ We made a decision. We made a choice. And I think it’s time for the governor to make the choice.”

(Dillon) Administration Secretary Mike Smith says he needs at least 36 hours to go over the technical details of the bill before the administration can decide whether to support it.

He also questions some of the legislation’s basic financial assumptions. For example, he says the bill includes a low ball estimate for how much health care costs will grow in the years ahead.

(Smith) “First, they’ve got medical inflation growing at 4.5%. No one believes that. No one believes that.”

(Dillon) And Smith says the lawmakers also assume the state will save millions of dollars within three years from a new initiative to treat chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

(Smith) “Most people are skeptical of those savings as well.”

(Dillon) But Smith also sounded an optimistic note. He said the governor and his administration are closer than ever to agreeing with the Legislature on the bill.

(Smith) “The governor wants a bill. I think we have the framework to make this happen. And I’ve never said that before. I think we have a framework to make this happen.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers estimate the new Catamount Health plan will reach about 25-thousand Vermonters who don’t currently have coverage.

That falls short of covering the estimated 60,000 people without insurance. But the lawmakers say it’s a first step towards universal coverage.

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

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