Douglas: Government should not be in the health care business

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is urging Congress to model part of its health care reform initiative after a number of successful Vermont programs.

But Douglas, who is taking a lead role on the issue for the National Governor’s Association, says he opposes the creation of a new public health insurance program, as part of the proposed legislation. 

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Governor Douglas is in a unique position within the National Governors Association.  He currently serves as vice chairman of the group and later this summer he’ll become the chairman. He’s also the head of the NGA’s special committee on health care.

Douglas says the NGA has several health care priorities.  The group wants Congress to streamline the nation’s health care delivery system and it wants to be certain that no new unfunded mandates are imposed on the states.

Democratic leaders in Congress want to include a new public health insurance program as part of their bill. It would be modeled after the Medicare program. Consumers would then have a choice. They could keep their existing private policies or they could sign up for the new public plan.

While the NGA doesn’t have a position on this specific issue, Douglas does – he doesn’t like it:

(Douglas) "I don’t think the federal government ought to be in the health care business. I don’t think they should run an insurance company, especially because it would likely crowd out private insurance options that are now available."

(Kinzel) Douglas says Vermont’s Catamount Health Care program is a better approach because it provides state subsidies to uninsured people to help them purchase private health insurance coverage:

(Douglas) "To provide some financial support for those who need it, to adopt a sliding scale approach based on income, to get away from the cliff benefit structure we have now – where essentially you’re either on Medicaid or you’re not. I think that’s the kind of model that ought to be replicated nationally."

(Kinzel) Douglas is also encouraging Congressional leaders to incorporate Vermont’s chronic care initiative at the national level. He says it would be an effective way to contain future health care costs:

(Douglas) "I’ve always said the structure of paying for insurance is really less important than containing costs, because it doesn’t matter what the payment structure is – it’s going to be unaffordable either way if we continue to see health care costs rise at multiples of inflation."

(Kinzel) The U.S. Senate Health, Education and Labor committee has just started to work on its health care reform legislation.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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