Divide widens over Medicaid and health care reform

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(Host) The battle between Governor Jim Douglas and Senate Democratic leaders over health care reform continues to escalate at the Statehouse.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Douglas says it’s absolutely critical for lawmakers to deal with a growing Medicaid shortfall in the coming months without raising taxes. That shortfall is expected to reach $80 million next year.

The governor’s plan cuts payments to hospitals and other providers by $21 million, imposes higher premiums on recipients, takes money from this year’s surplus and calls for additional savings from the state’s prescription drug program. Douglas’s proposal also hinges on a federal waiver that would give the state greater flexibility in using Medicaid funds in return for a limit on spending over the next five years.

Democrats in recent weeks have raised a lot of questions about the governor’s approach. At his weekly press conference he repeatedly waved a copy of his plan and issued a challenge to the Democrats:

(Douglas) “So where are their ideas on the other $65 million? I’ve got my ideas right here and all I hear from the Legislature is platitudes and complaints. I haven’t heard their plan!”

(Kinzel) Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Jim Leddy says it’s important to carefully analyze the governor’s plan and he wonders why the governor is being so defensive:

(Leddy) “The governor has a plan and anytime that anybody asks a question about his plan he says, well where’s your plan? We aren’t playing chicken here. We are not playing chicken with the lives of vulnerable Vermonters with the escalating cost of health insurance.”

(Kinzel) Douglas also suggested that perhaps the Democrats were stalling on the Medicaid issue in order to promote a single-payer health care plan next year:

(Douglas) “And then come in next year with some government run, single-payer scheme that rations care and lets bureaucrats make decisions about health care and put me on the spot in choosing between higher taxes and some single-payer plan.”

(Kinzel) Leddy says what the Democrats want is to deal with the Medicaid problem in the context of a larger health care crisis:

(Leddy) “Everybody – everybody, apparently with the exception of the governor – says we’ve got to approach this in a broader approach to contain health care costs, to extend health care protection to the 65,000 Vermonters without – it a number that is growing. Everybody seems to be talking along those lines with the exception of the governor.”

(Kinzel) Leddy says the governor’s plan will increase private health care insurance premiums because he says many of the so called savings will be cost shifted over to the private health insurance market.

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

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