Green Mountain Care Board Focuses On Cost Containment

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(Host) The new state board that will oversee virtually every aspect of health care in Vermont met for the first time on Tuesday.

And as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, one of the top priorities for the Green Mountain Care Board is to implement a number of cost containment measures during its first year in operation.

(Wallack) "Welcome to the first meeting of the Green Mountain Care Board. Glad to have you all here."

(Kinzel) That’s Anya Rader Wallack, the chair of the Green Mountain Care Board, officially kicking off the panel’s first meeting.

The Board will review hospital budgets and private health insurance rates, it will create payment reform initiatives, and it will design future benefit packages.                 

Wallack says a key goal is reducing the annual growth of health care costs.

(Wallack) "The question is, can we be doing something in terms of innovation out there in the world of innovation in the health care delivery system that results in more downward pressure on hospital budgets and on insurer rate increases."

(Kinzel) It’s estimated that roughly 25 percent of the increase of private health care premiums is due to the underpayment for services by state and federal programs. Wallack says it will take time to get these government programs to pay their fair share of health care costs.

(Wallack) "That’s going to be hard to deal with because it would involve essentially shifting a lot of private payments to the state budget. Probably not feasible to do that. But if we can at least do no more harm that will be an achievement."

(Kinzel) One group that’s very concerned about the work of the Green Mountain Care Board is the Vermont chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Shawn Shouldice is the group’s director.

(Shouldice) "NFIB would ask the Green Mountain Care Board to strongly consider ensuring that there are choices for employers to make, that they’re not limited to one carrier. … And, you know, obviously we need to know what it’s going to cost and how it’s going to be paid for. And the sooner we know that the better."

(Kinzel) But Wallack says it’s too early to make decisions about how to finance future health care programs and she says maintaining the status quo is not acceptable.

(Wallack) "The alternative is total certainty that health care costs are growing at an unsustainable rate. So the uncertainty about how we’re going to control health care costs, whether we’re going to be successful, and what we propose in terms of public financing, I think, is far preferable to sitting around and doing nothing. We have to tackle this problem."

(Kinzel) The Shumlin administration is seeking a federal waiver to allow Vermont to implement a publicly financed system in 2014. But the waiver is wrapped up in the congressional debate over the future of President Obama’s health care law.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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