Douglas considers joining lawsuit against Bush administration

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says Vermont may join a lawsuit to block the Bush administration from cutting funds for children’s health care programs.

But Douglas says he’ll only turn to court if the White House and Congress fail to find a compromise.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The new federal rules threaten to cut several thousand children from Vermont’s Dr. Dynosaur program because the Bush administration wants to lower eligibility levels for the program.

Vermont offers benefits to children in families with incomes less than 300% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that means roughly $60,000.

The Bush administration wants to cap eligibility at 200% of the poverty level, or roughly $40,000 for a family of four.

Congress has just passed legislation supporting the higher level, but the president has vowed to veto the bill because, he says, it will lead to the federalization of health care.

At this time it appears unlikely that supporters of the bill have enough votes to override a presidential veto in the U.S. House.

A number of states have decided to sue the Bush administration over this issue. Douglas says it’s likely that Vermont will join these lawsuits if Congress and the president can’t find a suitable compromise in the near future.

(Douglas) "Vermont may well decide to join but since there is a potential legislative remedy that would render the need for the lawsuit unnecessary, I don’t think we need to launch a lawsuit just for that sake alone. If it isn’t resolved that way, then I certainly reserve the option of joining the lawsuit."

(Kinzel) Douglas is the chairman of the health care committee of the National Governors Association. In that role, he says he expects to be actively involved in the negotiations between the White House and Congress.

(Douglas) "The governors across the country want to expand the program. I certainly do. It’s a cost effective way to insure that we intervene early in a person’s life and to prevent the chronic disease that can be more expensive later on."

(Kinzel) Douglas says he thinks this is a clear case where policy makers in Washington should pay more attention to the innovative programs being developed at the state level.

(Douglas) "I think Washington can learn a lot from Vermont. The states, especially our own, have been very innovative in proposing new programs in the area of health care in particular. So I think Vermont is seen as a leader and I hope that Washington will learn from our experience."

(Kinzel) Until this issue is settled, Douglas says Vermont won’t be able to use new federal funds to pay for children above 200% of the poverty level. However, the governor says the state has enough money in a Medicaid reserve fund to ensure that no children are cut from the program.

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

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