Gov. Douglas seeks approval of health care plan

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll seek legislative approval for a key part of his plan that’s designed to reduce health care insurance costs.

Douglas was going to implement these changes through the administrative rules process, but he says the proposal represents a significant change in policy and he feels that lawmakers should have an opportunity to review it.

VPR’s Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Last fall, the Douglas Administration was preparing a plan that would allow private health insurance companies to offer different rates to consumers based on a number of lifestyle factors, including the age and gender of the person, smoking habits, and whether or not the consumer is significantly overweight.

The current community rating law requires the insurance companies to offer the same rates to all consumers regardless of their age or health status.

Douglas says a number of companies left the state when the law went into place and he hopes to bring them back by giving them more flexibility in setting premium rates.

The governor was set to implement these changes through the administrative process, but Democratic leaders at the Statehouse strongly criticized this approach and argued that the issue should be reviewed by lawmakers.

Douglas says he now agrees and he’ll include the plan as part of a larger health care proposal early next month.

(Douglas) “That’s what I’m trying to accomplish: to incent people to live healthy lives – to make good and healthy choices – so this would provide that sort of flexibility that the insurance companies don’t have now. I think it’s important because most people respond to economic incentives. If they can feel a demonstrable change in their pocketbooks, they’re more likely to make the right choice.”

(Kinzel) Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Jim Leddy, a Democrat from Chittenden County, says he’s pleased that the governor has changed his approach to this issue, but Leddy is making it very clear that he feels the plan is a major mistake.

(Leddy) “There’s great risk of harm, there is great risk of harm. There is frankly minimal opportunity to make improvements, and so when you weigh those factors it makes a great deal of sense number one to thoughtfully consider all of the impacts of these areas, and frankly then to bring the Legislature in to discuss them and ultimately make some decisions.”

(Kinzel) The Democrats and the governor also differ on the best way to provide more access to health care for the employees of small businesses.

While Douglas wants to make tax incentives available to companies that offer health care insurance, the Democrats want to make it possible for these small businesses to join the state’s health care access program.

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