Senate health care plan draws concern

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(Host) A number of business groups are expressing strong concerns about a health care reform plan the Senate is drafting.

Some groups think the plan goes much too far while others don’t think it goes far enough.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The plan calls for government subsidies to help uninsured Vermonters pay for coverage. The subsidy would be based on the person’s income. It also prohibits individuals from signing up for Medicaid if coverage is available at work. The legislation hopes to reduce future costs by encouraging better management of chronic care illnesses.

The bill is financed, in part, by increasing the state cigarette tax and by placing an assessment on companies that don’t offer coverage to their employees. This fee would range between $200 and $400 per employee; smaller businesses would pay the smaller rate.

Duane Marsh is the director of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. He thinks the bill is the first step towards a government-run system, something he strongly opposes.

(Marsh) “We think the entire concept of Catamount Health is the issue. It isn’t the various elements that we talk about – it’s the entire concept, which we have a problem with in its totality.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont Retail Association doesn’t oppose the new fee, but director John Klesch says his group wants to use this new money to increase Medicaid reimbursement payments to help reduce the shifting of these costs to private payers. He says this action could reduce private premiums by as much as 15%.

(Klesch) “Dropping that price point by that significant a number, our hope and our expectation would be you would see some employers that have had to get out of offering health insurance to their employees would be able to possibly afford to come back to it.”

(Kinzel) Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility thinks a single-payer, taxpayer-financed system is the ultimate answer to the state’s health care crisis. Spokesperson Tim Palmer says the Senate plan is a step in the right direction but he’s worried that some businesses will stop providing health care coverage and opt instead to pay the new assessment because it will be far cheaper. Palmer says this situation will leave employees in limbo because they must be uninsured for a year to qualify for the Senate plan.

(Palmer) “So it puts employees in a very difficult position of seeking coverage in the private sector while their employer is then reducing his or her expense and paying that employer assessment.”

(Kinzel) Senate leaders are hoping to have the bill on the floor for debate in the next two weeks.

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

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