Dean, Douglas take important roles in health care debate

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(Host) Vermont’s current governor, Jim Douglas, and former governor, Howard Dean, are playing important roles in the national debate about overhauling health care.

And they have very different opinions about the importance of including a public plan option in any bill that emerges from Congress.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In the past few days, former Governor Howard Dean has emerged as a key national spokesperson for the public plan option.

Dean is strongly advocating for the public plan at a time when President Obama seems to be downplaying the importance of this approach.     

Dean says the public plan is needed to give consumers a choice about their health care coverage.

(Dean) "They can be in something like Medicare, like a government-run single payer, if they want to, if they think that’s what’s best for their families. Or they can keep what they have, and if they don’t have much money, enough to buy health insurance, they can get a subsidy from the government, based on their income and choose either private or a public plan. That seems to be the only way out of this impasse is to put this in the hands of the American people and let them vote with their wallets."

(Kinzel) Douglas is involved in the national debate as the new chairman of the National Governors Association. He says a new public plan isn’t financially sustainable and he’s worried that Congress will shift some of the costs to the states.

(Douglas) "We don’t have confidence that they’ll be able to maintain that commitment over the long run. So that’s why I’m concerned about an expanded public role, a bigger public insurance program, because I’m really afraid that the states are going to get nailed at least for a portion of it. … And we’ve got a $200 million problem in Vermont over the next couple of years."

(Kinzel) Douglas says it’s unfortunate that the debate over the public plan obscures the more important issue of implementing effective cost containment measures in the health care bill.

(Douglas) "That’s what’s fundamentally going to make a difference in the sustainability of our health care system. And I believe in the quality of care that the American people get, but it seems to have been reduced to a rhetorical debate of, ‘Are you for health care reform or are you against it? Are you for a public option or are you against it?’ That’s too simplistic and I think really misses the point."

(Kinzel) Meanwhile, Dean says he’s encouraging the president to stop courting Republican votes and to rely on Democratic support to get the bill through Congress.

(Dean) "You don’t think Franklin Roosevelt leaned around trying to get Republicans who hated Social Security to suddenly change? Suppose he’d said, ‘Oh, well, we could have a private Social Security plan.’ Well you know what the stock market would have done to that in the last two and a half years. Get down there do what we’re elected to do and then we’ll get re-elected. You can only lose if you think you have to be more like the opposition in order to win votes. That’s always a losing proposition."

(Kinzel) If the public option is dropped from the bill, Dean says, Congress should strip all funding from the legislation and then proceed by enacting some basic insurance reform measures.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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