(Host) The Senate has started its debate of the big health care initiative advocated by Governor Peter Shumlin. The discussion is expected to take at least two days, with more than a dozen amendments to consider.
As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, some of those amendments are geared to make the legislation friendlier to the state’s business community.
(Kinzel) Backers of the bill say the legislation is needed to help curb the skyrocketing cost of health care. They note that these costs have doubled in Vermont in the past 5 years and that 200,000 Vermonters are still either uninsured or underinsured.
Addison senator Claire Ayer is the chairwomen of the Senate Health and Welfare committee. She says the time has come to deal with this issue in a comprehensive manner.
(Ayer) "We spend more per capita than any other country on the planet and we don’t get the best care that we could…doing nothing is not an option staying on this health care track is how we got where we are today. This is our opportunity to move forward, control health care costs and improve health care quality for Vermont."
(Kinzel) The legislation has several important parts. It creates so called exchanges that are required under the new federal health care law. The exchanges would go into effect in 2014.
These exchanges would act as a marketplace where consumers could compare private insurance policies based on a common benefits package. The exchanges would also draw down millions of dollars in new federal funds to subsidize policies for low and middle income people.
Rutland senator Kevin Mullin says one key goal of the bill is lower health care costs for businesses throughout the state.
(Mullin) "One of our biggest allies throughout this process should be entrepreneurs and small businesses because of the biggest expenses that any entrepreneur or small business has is their health care cost for their employees and if we do this right if we can create an environment that will be a welcoming environment for people to try new ideas and try new businesses and ultimately some of those will succeed and grow."
(Kinzel) The bill also establishes a new 5 person Board that will oversee virtually every aspect of health care in Vermont. The Board will set a total health care budget for the state, regulate hospital budgets and private insurance premiums, set reimbursement rates for health care providers and create a new payment system.
The Senate is scheduled to complete action on the health care bill by Tuesday night.
For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.