House Passes Medicaid Changes

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(Host) The Vermont House approved changes to the state’s Medicaid program after an all-day debate Thursday, with the final decision coming by voice vote last night. Governor Howard Dean says he supports many of the cuts in the state’s drug assistance program that are backed by House Republican leaders.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The debate over the Medicaid reform bill developed into a marathon battle in the House. Over a two-day period, the House devoted more than 12 hours of floor time to this legislation.

One of the most controversial parts of the bill is a proposal to impose new co payments and deductibles in the state’s drug assistance program for low and middle income elderly Vermonters. The plan includes a $1,000 deductible for elderly people with incomes between $15,000 and $20,000.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully several times to boost the state cigarette tax to 67 cents to restore funds for these programs. The bill does include a 36 cent increase in the cigarette tax to provide additional revenue for the Medicaid program.

Governor Howard Dean told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he supports the 67 cent cigarette tax increase to stabilize the program for the next five years. But Dean doesn’t want lawmakers to use these new revenues to restore the cuts in the drug assistance program because he says the state can no longer afford to offer these benefits:

(Dean) "The question is not so much is it fair to do this or do that, the question is how are we going to pay for this? And we can’t. These prices are going up so fast that we haven’t figured out how to pay for it and if you can’t pay for it you can’t run the program."

(Kinzel) And Dean says he will not support a Medicaid reform bill that does not address the escalating growth of this program:

(Dean) "Because if you get more revenues and you add expenses it’s still not going to be for any more than 18 months. I think that’s a fraud perpetrated on the people of the state of Vermont who believe that we’re going to have a stable program and find out next year that we can’t pay for it. And now we have to make some more cuts. Look, all I’m saying is we need to stabilize this program and fixing it because it is an election year so it will last one more year is exactly what Congress does."

(Kinzel) The Senate is expected to begin its review of the House plan next week.

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

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