Senate approves health care reform bill

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(Host) Late this afternoon, the Vermont Senate approved a comprehensive health care reform bill. The vote on the bill was 25 to 4.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, Governor Jim Douglas is threatening to veto the bill.

(Kinzel) For many people at the Statehouse, it’s de-ja vu all over again. Just like last year, lawmakers and the governor are fighting over health care reform and the threat of a gubernatorial veto hangs over the debate.

It’s estimated that roughly 61,000 Vermonters don’t have health insurance – 7,000 are children, 54,000 are adults.

The Senate plan is designed to make coverage more affordable by offering subsidies that are based on an individual’s ability to pay.

It also seeks to reduce chronic care costs by implementing a reimbursement system that encourages health care providers to develop maintenance and prevention measures with patients who have chronic illnesses.

The plan is financed, in part, by raising the state cigarette tax and imposing a $365 per employee assessment on companies that don’t offer coverage to their workers.

Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Jim Leddy told his colleagues that the bill is needed because the cost of health care is rising at a time when more and more Vermonters are losing their employer based coverage:

(Leddy) “When we think about it we have what can only be described as a perfect storm. Think of ourselves out on the stormy water, an organized flotilla of worthy ships of smaller boats and smaller yet and lifeboats and people with life jackets and more and more people being thrown overboard.”

(Kinzel) Leddy says over $180 million in uncompensated care is cost shifted over to private insurance premiums every year.

He says imposing the fee on employers that don’t offer coverage is one way to address part of that shift:

(Leddy) “We think it’s an element of fairness that everybody be asked to pay something. We believe the cost we’re talking about is modest. We think it’s important. We’ve been told and I’ve heard that we’re being punitive we’re being punitive I don’t know what we’re being to insurers and individuals and employers who are paying for the cost shift year in an year out. If that isn’t punishment I don’t know what is.”

(Kinzel) Rutland Republican Wendy Wilton opposed the bill because she thinks many businesses will drop their existing coverage and tell their employees to sign up for the state plan – it’s a situation she says will drive up the cost of the program.

(Wilton) “What we may end up doing is exacerbating the cost shift for the private payer. If we have a tremendous migration to the Catamount health it means that there will be fewer players left to pay an increased cost share if that number is not correct and that is a very serious concern.”

The measure is expected to come up for final approval in the Senate on Friday.

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

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