Former governor says it’s time to pass health care reform plan

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(Host) Former Governor Howard Dean says it’s critical for Congress to pass a comprehensive health care reform plan in the next few months.

That’s because Dean thinks it could be another ten years before the nation will have another opportunity to deal with the issue in a meaningful way.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Dean says he’s spending most of his time these days working on health care reform.  As part of that effort, he’s traveling around the country speaking about his new book – "Dr. Dean’s Prescription For Real Health Care Reform."

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Dean said recessions offer the best opportunity to address health care reform – that’s why he thinks this is the time for Congress to act:

(Dean) "What really drives health insurance is not the plight of the uninsured. What really drives health insurance is the fear that people who do have it will either use it or it’s just so expensive that it doesn’t work for them anymore. And in economic bad times that’s when the call for reforming health insurance is the greatest."

(Kinzel) Part of Dean’s prescription calls for a public-private health care system.  Under this plan, a new public program would be created along the lines of Medicare and private health insurance companies would continue to operate as they do today. Individuals would then choose which policy to have.  Dean says this approach is better than making a total conversion to a single payer model:

(Dean) "I don’t think that we can anymore than I think the insurance companies should be able to dictate what we choose which is what they’ve been doing for the last 60 years. I don’t think that the government should be able to dictate that. So let’s give Americans the choice. You know we’ve had a single payer in this country for almost 50 years> It’s been very, very successful – it’s called Medicare. It’s cheaper, more effective and you can’t lose your coverage. Why not let people under 65 have that option? That’s what we’re arguing."

(Kinzel) Under Dean’s plan, low to moderate income people would be eligible for premium subsidies based on their income.  These subsidies could be used to purchase either a private or public policy. Dean thinks this approach will help a lot of small businesses:

(Dean) "People who criticize this public plan and the subsidies for the private plans that people may choose talk about big government – and that’s true, the government will get bigger. But the private sector’s share – what they have to pay to health care – will get smaller. And that should not be under looked. This is in some ways a stimulus package for our business community and I think this is a good time for it."

(Kinzel) Under Dean’s proposal, all individuals would be eligible for coverage regardless of their age or medical condition.  Several variations of the Dean approach are now being considered in Congress.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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