Democrats outline health care goals for 2004 session

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(Host) Senate and House Democratic leaders have unveiled a health care proposal that’s designed to provide coverage for thousands of uninsured Vermonters. The plan also calls for an aggressive program to import prescription drugs from Canada.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Democrats say they view health care reform as the most important issue of the upcoming session. The goal of the Democratic proposal is to reduce the number of Vermonters who have no insurance, provide small businesses with less expensive health care options, and cut the cost of prescription drugs.

Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Jim Leddy says action is needed during the upcoming session because a new report indicates that one-third of all workers between the ages of 18 and 30 in Vermont don’t have any health insurance at all.

The Democratic plan calls for expanding the eligibility age of the Dr. Dynasaur program from 17 to 25 years and it allows small businesses to buy into the Vermont Health Access program.

Leddy says the cost of the plan is roughly $2 million, but he argues the proposal is actually cost neutral because current efforts to provide health care to the uninsured represent roughly 15% of most private health care premiums:

(Leddy) “I think what it points out is in our society, in our country it is a national embarrassment that we have so many of our citizens who cannot afford or have access to basic health care. We know that our effort is a step, it’s a modest step. But it’s far better than simply doing nothing.”

(Kinzel) The Democrats also want the state of Vermont to challenge the federal Food and Drug Administration over the issue of re-importing drugs from Canada. Governor Jim Douglas has asked the FDA to support a pilot program involving Vermont and Canada, but Douglas says he doesn’t want to break the law. Leddy thinks Vermont should take a hard line with the FDA:

(Leddy) “I think this state should join with other states and the American people in challenging the logic of our federal government in denying affordable prescription drugs to the people of this country. You know, we can only run so many shuttle busses to Canada and if the answer to health care in our country is to put people on busses to another country, that’s simply unacceptable.”

(Kinzel) Administration Secretary Michael Smith says he some concerns about the Democratic proposal but Smith says he wants to thoroughly analyze the plan before making any additional comments about it.

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

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