Douglas Voices Concerns Over Health Care Legislation

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(Host) The House Health Care Committee has given its approval to legislation that represents the first phase of what’s expected to be their comprehensive reform plan. The plan restructures Vermont’s regulatory review process with the goal of cutting the state’s current health care growth rate in half over the next five years.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The chairman of the House committee, Burlington Rep. John Tracy, says the bill has two major goals. The first is to create an integrated state health care review process that will have more authority than the existing system.

Tracy thinks the Public Service Board serves as a good model for what his panel hopes to create in health care. The new board would review all hospital budgets and have the power to limit them, it would vote on all major expansion projects and it would establish a unified health care budget for the state.

Tracy thinks these and other steps could dramatically cut the state’s health care growth rate by 2010. The proposal also calls for a publicly financed health care system, but leaves the details to the Ways and Means committee.

Tracy is hoping that passage of this bill this year will set off a spirited debate across the state about the future of health care.

(Tracy) “Over the summer and the fall, please help us figure out a way we can reform our health care system. We have some significant ideas. Everything we’ve heard has said you can’t keep doing it the way you’re doing. You need to change the system. We realize that. But we have to understand that Vermonters want a system that represents their values, what they can afford and a fair method of payment for it. So we’re putting the process in place to have that candid, that honest, that frank discussion with Vermonters.”

(Kinzel) The plan faces an uncertain future at the Statehouse. Governor Jim Douglas has expressed strong concerns about it.

(Douglas) “I don’t think we need more bureaucracy to regulate health care. Through the years – and I’ve been around for a number of them – we’ve restructured the way we administer the regulation for health care many time. And health care costs keep rising. They keep going up at dramatic rate. So I don’t think reshuffling the way that we regulate health care is going to be necessarily the answer.”

(Kinzel) But Tracy says it makes a lot of sense to occasionally reorganize government agencies to make them more efficient.

(Tracy) “The governor just reorganized the Agency of Human Services a year or two ago. Is it a good idea when he thinks about it and not a good idea when we do get outside the box? We know there’s a problem. We all know there’s a problem. And no one’s willing to address it. The governor doesn’t think we’re in a crisis. We do.”

(Kinzel) House leaders are hoping to have the bill on the House floor for debate by the end of the month.

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

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