House Gives Preliminary Approval To Health Care Bill

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(Host) After a full day and evening of debate, the Vermont House gave preliminary approval to health care reform legislation that’s designed to put the state on the path toward a single payer system.

The vote on the measure was 89 to 47.

Backers of the bill say it’s needed because the state’s current health care approach is broken. But opponents say it could dismantle the high quality system that’s already in place.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The legislation is one of Governor Peter Shumlin’s top priorities and represents the signature issue of his first term in office.

The heart of the bill is the creation of a 5 person Health Care Board, modeled after the Public Service Board, which will oversee virtually every aspect of health care in the state.

The Board will establish a total state budget for health care, it will review hospital budgets and private insurance rates, and it will design a new payment system for health care providers.

Health Care chairman Mark Larson says the bill, known as H 202, is needed because costs are rising at an unsustainable level.

(Larson) "H202 represents an historic opportunity to fix our broken health care system and unleash the potential of the Vermont economy that has struggled with the cost of health care it would provide health care security to Vermonters and allow us to bend the curve on health care costs in short H202 is the right thing for us to do."

(Kinzel) Larson says the Board is needed to provide a centralized approach to health care reform.

(Larson) "At this point we have nowhere to turn because we have a system that is too fragmented and too complex where there are many cooks but no one is really in charge of dinner."

(Kinzel) Many Republicans and some Democrats opposed the bill. Arlington Rep. Cynthia Browning said the legislation was too ambitious and had too many unanswered questions.

(Browning) "So the uncertainty about the benefits, the coverage, the costs, the financing, the tax structure the uncertainty to our businesses I feel is a very, very detrimental effect to our economy and to the grow of the economy and he creation of jobs and this is not the direction in which I wish to go."

(Kinzel) Earlier in the day, the House rejected an effort to remove $24 million in health care provider taxes from the miscellaneous tax bill.

Lowell Rep. Mark Higley offered the amendment because he said the taxes would ultimately be passed along to consumers.

(Higley) "The governor told this body that we must not and cannot succumb to the idea that Vermonters have the capacity to pay higher taxes and this amendment is offered in that spirit."

(Kinzel) But Ways and Means chairwoman Janet Ancel said the taxes were needed to draw down millions of dollars in federal funds for the state’s Medicaid program.

(Ancel) "If this amendment passes we’re looking at a potential decrease of $34 million."

(Kinzel) The legislation is scheduled to come up for final approval on Thursday.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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