House and Senate optimistic about Health Care Commission

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(Host) House and Senate Democratic leaders say they’re optimistic that their newly created Health Care Commission will help lawmakers develop a comprehensive plan to provide all Vermonters with access to affordable health care.

Governor Jim Douglas says he’s very skeptical about the agenda of the commission.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The Democratic leaders outlined their goals for the new commission standing just outside the main door of the emergency room of the Central Vermont Hospital.

During the course of the press conference, emergency response personnel quickly wheeled a patient on a stretcher into the hospital from a nearby ambulance.

The new commission was originally part of a comprehensive health care reform plan. But the governor vetoed that legislation. So Democratic leaders inserted a provision creating the commission in next year’s budget bill.

The commission consists of eight lawmakers – four each from the House and the Senate. The Douglas Administration will have two non-voting members on the panel.

The commission will have a full time director and two staff people. It will hold a series of public hearings around the state. And it will help facilitate several economic impact studies of various health care models.

House Health Care chairman John Tracy says the goal of the project is to stimulate a statewide dialogue on health care.

(Tracy) “This is the time for Vermonters and for businesses to get at the table and have a very candid discussion about what are you willing to pay for, what do you want out of a health care system, what’s the best way to pay for it and make sure we insure quality. We’re going to keep the momentum going. And we think this commission puts that in place.”

(Kinzel) The governor says he’s very skeptical about the commission. He’s upset that the two Administration members don’t have voting power. He thinks the panel has a predetermined agenda. And he’s concerned about the commission’s price tag of $725,000 over the next two years.

(Douglas) “That’s a huge amount of money. It’s almost as much as it costs to keep the session going for another two weeks. Think of the subsidies we could give to people who don’t have insurance with that kind of money. I think it’s an excessive amount of money to fund a study commission for heaven’s sake.”

(Kinzel) Senate president Peter Welch defended the budget of the commission:

(Welch) “The governor is trying, I think, to diminish the prospects for success of the commission. The number I think the governor wants to focus on is $350 million. That’s how much it costs Vermonters next year in additional health care spending as a result of our failure to address that issue now.”

(Kinzel) The commission will hold its first meeting at the end of the month. It hopes to have its staff in place by the beginning of August.

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

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