Battle Over Health Care Reform Bill Intensifies

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(Host) House Democratic leaders say they believe they have the votes to pass a new health care reform bill this week. But the Douglas Administration is mounting a strong lobbying effort against the legislation. The governor says the plan will devastate the state economy.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The battle over a new bill developed by the House Health Care committee intensified as legislative leaders checked, then doubled-checked and triple-checked their caucus lists in an effort to solidify their positions.

The legislation creates a framework for a new health care system that provides coverage to all Vermonters and consolidates state health care review agencies. It finances the new system by using a yet-to-be determined public funding approach. Governor Jim Douglas is strongly opposed to the legislation:

(Douglas) “This is a two-billion dollar tax increase on the people of our state. I’ve already heard from individuals and businesses that are taking another look at Vermont. This could have a devastating effect on our economy.”

(Kinzel) House Majority leader Carolyn Partridge predicts that most of the eighty-three members of the Democratic caucus will support the bill. Partridge says the rising cost of health care premiums should be viewed as a hidden tax.

(Partridge) “I think that it’s really important to keep in mind that if you look at health care premium costs over the last several years, in fact the last decade, they have basically increased by double digits yearly. And if you think of those health care premiums as a tax,then the increase has been astounding.”

(Kinzel) The six-member Progressive caucus could be a key group when the final roll call takes place. Burlington Representative, Bob Kiss, expects all of his members will support the legislation.

(Kiss) “The key issue is that it does support universal health care. It’s been a platform plank of the Progressive Party for a long time. I think the fact that it takes that step forward, to say: ‘let’s plan for universal care, universal access, coverage of everyone’ – we certainly support that.”

(Kinzel) The Republicans are trying to convince a number of moderately conservative Democrats to vote against the bill.

House Minority leader Peg Flory:

(Flory) “I’ve heard a lot of real genuine concerns about having a government sponsored taxpayer- paid system – that we don’t have any of the details worked out. And to try and pass a piece of legislation with that many unanswered questions is not something that appeals to my caucus.”

(Kinzel) The measure will be considered on Wednesday and Thursday. House members are bracing for a full 2-day debate over the bill.

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

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