(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says he believes it’s possible for Congress to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill by the end of the summer.
Welch says he backs creating a new public health care plan that would be modeled after Vermont’s Catamount Health Care program.
VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Getting Congress to pass a health care reform package this year is one of the top priorities of President Obama.
In the U.S. House, the outline of a Democratic consensus plan has emerged and debate over the bill could begin soon.
Congressman Peter Welch says passing legislation by the end of the summer is ambitious but definitely possible:
(Welch) "Actually I do. In 1993 when President Clinton tried to do it, Harry and Louise killed it. Now Harry and Louise don’t have health care and there’s much more awareness – not just among middle class families but among the business community – that the current system doesn’t work. So they want reform."
(Kinzel) Welch says the reform plan should include an individual mandate, assessments for businesses that don’t offer insurance to their employees and a new government sponsored program that would provide coverage to anyone who wants it:
(Welch) "One of the ways of expanding choice and actually putting some competition into the system is to have a public option. So if you’re a Vermonter and you’ve got a plan you like you keep it. But if you think you’d like the public plan you’d do that. And of course we did this in Vermont with Catamount."
(Kinzel) Welch says he expects a lot of debate over how to finance the new system. One plan being discussed would tax the value of private health insurance policies. Welch doesn’t like this approach:
(Welch) "That’s not my preference at all. I think it would be alarming to folks who enjoy one thing that’s really solid for them and that’s health care benefits at work… We’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it and the guiding principal for me is that it’s one: based on ability to pay, and that two: all of us contribute."
(Kinzel) Welch says the legislation also needs to include a number of cost containment measures that are similar to Vermont’s Blueprint for Health. That’s a system that’s designed to provide more cost effective care for people with chronic illnesses:
(Welch) "If all we do is raise money, however we do it, to pour it into the existing system and feed it and we don’t reform it then we simply won’t be able to afford it… So it’s absolutely in our national economic interests that we get the cost under control, so that people have access to affordable health care."
(Kinzel) House Republican leaders say they’ll strongly oppose the Democrats’ approach because they feel it represents "a Washington takeover of health care."
For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.