Walter Freed and Peter Welch: the next session

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(Host) When the Legislature adjourned, VPR invited Vermont House Speaker Walter Freed and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch to sit down in the Talk Studio and review the session. Senator Welch begins the conversation by identifying the top issues for the next legislative session:

(Welch) “Well, I’d say number one always is the budget, number two is I think an energy policy in the state that is conservation oriented and helps bring down rates and costs. And three, and this is probably my actually top priority, and that’s health care; addressing the ever escalating cost of health care that is creating immense amount of insecurity for families and for small businesses.”

(Freed) “And I’d say my top priorities that the legislature would have to deal with in the next session – whether it’s a special session or the regular session is still the permit reform legislation that we’ve done so much work on; the high cost of health care and where is that going from here and what can we do to make change in the availability of affordable health insurance as part of that; and also I’d come back to looking at the school funding: cost containment, issues surrounding – property taxes are not going away, we – you know we’ve got the first step done but that’s also a major part of our work for next year.”

(Welch) “You know the health care issue, I think is going to be very, very difficult for a couple of reasons. One, it’s always a tough political fight if you are proposing things that affect the status quo; but number two as a practical matter it’s a very, very difficult issue, where utilization has to be part of the approach. How is it that you get a control on how much the utilization is without adversely affecting health care? But if we don’t bring down the cost in the health care system we’re not going to have access.”

(Freed) “I’d agree with the Senator but when you use words like ‘utilization’ it almost sounds like rationing and that’s the thing that we have to be concerned about but you know as the aging population – and the demographics of Vermont is also aging – more of our young healthy people leave to find careers elsewhere. We have an older population of retirees that move in here. We are saddled with a growing expense and it’s pushed by people that want to live longer – do live longer – demand more from the services from the system, and less of the means to pay for those.”

(Welch) And the effort to squeeze out cost – and interestingly enough I think the cost side is the emerging political issue, whether we’re talking about health care or education – things that are vitally important to families. The question there is how do you do that in a way that doesn’t require rationing or cut people off and my view is that unless we address the cost side we’re going to be denying access because we simply can’t keep up with the incredible increase in costs – prescription drugs is one of them but other elements of health care are also.”

(Freed) “In part one way to deal with that high cost is to make the state more attractive for major employers to move to Vermont or grow their businesses that are here in Vermont, ones that are hiring a younger group of the population because they have virtually no health care costs – or much lower – and by being part of that insurance system, by being part of the whole group of the health care community, they bring down the cost and help share that cost with that older population. So we’ve got to look at whether it’s reforming the permitting system, or lower energy costs that allow IBM to expand or grow here in Vermont, all those things help us, also with the issue that deals with the health care costs by allowing for a younger population to grow here in Vermont.”

(Welch) “Younger people do have lower health care expenses but I think that we’re going to have to start examining the structural issues in the health care system. And there’s not a easy, quick answer to that but there’s been an “industrialization” of the delivery of health care in many respects. And how do you bring that cost down, how do you keep – bring – down the cost of prescription drugs? That’s a fundamentally important issue to cost containment.”

(Host) Democrat Peter Welch is President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Republican Walter Freed is Speaker of the Vermont House. Thursday they’ll continue their conversation in the Talk Studio, and discuss Howard Dean’s bid for the presidency.

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