House candidates disagree on insurance legislation

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(Host) Republican U.S. House candidate Martha Rainville says she supports legislation that would allow Vermonters to purchase health insurance from out-of-state companies.

Rainville says the policies would cost less because they wouldn’t necessarily include many existing state mandates.

Democratic candidate Peter Welch says the plan is a bad idea because it allows the federal government to pre-empt important state regulations.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Currently any insurance company that wants to do business in Vermont must offer policies that include certain mandated benefits such as maternity, chiropractic and mental health coverage.

Vermont also has a community rating law which requires insurance companies to charge the same rate regardless of a person’s age or health condition.

The legislation was passed after several national companies insured only young healthy people in Vermont and refused to cover other individuals.

Republican U.S. House candidate Martha Rainville thinks some of these reforms have hurt access to affordable health care policies.

(Rainville) “What’s happened is we now have a segment of our population, mostly young people going out to work on their own, starting their families, that can’t afford it because by putting so much regulation on it we drove out health insurers, we drove out competition and the cost went up.”

(Kinzel) Rainville says government programs should be ready to step in and offer coverage to individuals if they’re denied policies by out of state companies.

(Rainville) “We have to realize that we have government health care programs, that we cover older Americans, that will cover those who are uninsurable, those who have chronic diseases.”

(Kinzel) Democratic candidate Peter Welch strongly opposes the plan because he says it allows the federal government to pre-empt state health care policy.

(Welch) “It would undercut what we’ve done here in Vermont with mental health parity, and also with Catamount Health where we’re establishing a base level of benefits. A sensible idea is to allow other companies to come into Vermont and compete for business. But to essentially turn over authority to other states anywhere to decide what are the levels of benefits that Vermonters would receive, I think is a very bad idea.”

(Kinzel) Dr. David Fassler is the Treasurer of the Vermont Psychiatric Association. He opposes the out-of-state insurance plan because it would eliminate key state mandates including mental health parity.

He thinks some of the individuals who purchase scaled back benefit policies will still need treatment for uncovered services.

(Fassler) “We would still be providing those services. It would get picked up either by state funded programs or by hospitals and other health care providers that weren’t getting paid for their services. It would increase Medicaid costs. We already know that. We have significant problems with the cost shift of one payer to another in the state.”

(Kinzel) Legislation allowing small businesses to purchase out of state health coverage was narrowly defeated by the U.S. Senate this past session.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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