Democrats will make health care reform a priority

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(HOST) Democratic legislative leaders say making health care coverage more affordable for small businesses in Vermont will be one of their priorities for the 2008 session.

Senate president Peter Shumlin says he wants to build on the success of Catamount Health Care – that’s a program that provides coverage to uninsured Vermonters.

Shumlin says lawmakers should work now to help the state’s underinsured population -people who pay huge premiums for high deductible policies.

He says it’s possible to design a policy that has much better benefits at a lower cost if the state creates a reinsurance pool and requires employees to participate in wellness and disease management programs:

(Shumlin) "The Legislature understands that small businesses now need help too that we’re not just talking about the uninsured we’re talking about all the Vermonters who are struggling every day to afford health insurance and do the right thing for their employees and we feel it’s time we do something for you."

(HOST) It’s projected that the program will cost roughly $15 million a year.  Shumlin didn’t identify a funding source but he says he’s confident the money can be found.

Senate minority whip Kevin Mullin says he likes the concept of helping small businesses but he doesn’t want to raise taxes to pay for it:

(Mullin) "And unfortunately what I heard today was no mention of how we’re going to pay that and depending on where you draw that threshold if it’s 9 employees or fewer it’s 7 million and you can go up from there as high as 25 million and that money has to come from somewhere and nobody seems to be talking about that."

(HOST) House Speaker Gaye Symington says she strongly supports the new small business proposal because she says rising premium costs will eventually force many companies to drop insurance coverage for their employees.

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