Douglas, Democrats disagree on approach to health care

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he’s not very enthusiastic about a Democratic proposal that would allow small businesses in the state to buy into the Vermont Health Access Plan. Douglas says he’ll unveil his own comprehensive health care proposal in several weeks.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The issue of how to control the cost of health care is likely to emerge as one of the biggest tension points between the governor and Democrats at the statehouse this session. Democratic leaders criticized Douglas for not including a major health care reform plan in his State of the State address earlier this week and they’ve urged the governor to support their own health care proposal.

It’s a plan that essentially builds on existing state health care programs. It expands the eligibility age of Dr. Dynasaur from 17 to 25 and it allows small businesses to buy into the Vermont Health Access Plan. It also encourages the state to take a very aggressive stand in support of efforts to re-import prescription drugs from Canada.

Douglas says the main parts of the Democratic proposal call for an expansion of the state’s Medicaid system and the governor says there are a lot of problems taking this approach:

(Douglas) “We have to make sure that it’s sustainable in the sense that it’s able to pay the bills, and we have a program now that doesn’t reimburse our medical providers the cost of providing those services. And I don’t want to see that situation made worse.”

(Kinzel) Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Jim Leddy argues that the state should try to insure as many people as possible in order to reduce a growing cost shift in the health care industry. Leddy says uninsured people still require health care services and the cost of paying for these services is now being reflected in rising health care premiums for all Vermonters:

(Leddy) “We’re already paying for this care. We aren’t getting very good care for it. For the uninsured, they get care very late if at all. They don’t get preventive care but when they do get health care it is usually the most expensive type because they can’t afford and don’t take any steps to do the preventive work. The question is, are we paying for it now? By and large I think those expenditures are already in our health acre economy – they just aren’t being counted.”

(Kinzel) The Douglas administration is seeking a waiver from the federal government to allow the state to establish a pilot program to permit state employees to purchase their prescription drugs from Canada. The federal Food and Drug Administration recently announced its opposition to this kind of effort and the FDA says it may crack down on states that take this approach.

The Democrats want Douglas to go ahead with the re-importation initiative and challenge the FDA but the governor says he’s not ready to break the law at this time.

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

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