House Passes Universal Health Care Bill

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(Host) After two full days of debate, the Vermont House has given its final approval to a health care reform bill that puts the state on the path of having a single-payer system as early as 2014.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, and Senate President John Campbell is pledging to pass a reform bill before lawmakers adjourn this spring.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Moments after the House gave its final approval to the legislation, House Speaker Shap Smith, Senate President John Campbell and Governor Peter Shumlin held a joint news conference to celebrate the House’s action.

Smith was the first to speak to huge crowd of lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters.

(Smith) "I’m pleased to announce that the House passed today House bill 202 which is an act relating to a unified and universal health care system 92 – 49. (Applause)

(Kinzel) The House was in session until midnight on Wednesday night and then spent the full day on Thursday considering the bill. Smith said he was proud of the debate.

(Smith) "It is a testament to the ways things are done here in Vermont it was civil and it was substantive it would be nice if that was the case throughout the country."

(Kinzel) The Governor says the passage of the bill in the House marks an important milestone and puts Vermont on track to be the first state in the country that implements a single payer system.

(Shumlin) "Where health care will be a right and not a privilege, where health acre will follow the individual not be a requirement of the employer and where we’ll have an affordable system that contains costs. That is what the House has done today."

(Kinzel) The bill now goes to the Senate where its health care committee has been taking testimony on the Governor’s plan for several weeks. Senate President John Campbell says he’s committed to passing a reform bill this year.

(Campbell) "We’re not doing this just for the state of Vermont, we’re doing this for the rest of the country as well. If we don’t succeed here in Vermont in what I believe is very, very possible then there are other states that probably won’t take up this mission."

(Kinzel) Jericho Democrat George Till is a member of the House Health Care committee and voted for the bill. Till is a doctor and at the end of the House debate he told members that he thinks the bill offers "tremendous risks and tremendous opportunities".

(Till) "The opportunity is that we can cover all Vermonters with health care we can do that we must do that we’re already paying for that we’re paying for that with the cost shift of uncompensated care. But on the risk side I worry about the delay in getting back the financing plans, I worry about the delay in getting back the reimbursement rates for providers. I worry about what’s going to happen to jobs in Vermont in the interim."

(Kinzel) Senate leaders say they plan to closely review a provision of the House bill that creates a new 5 person Health Care Board that will oversee virtually every aspect of health care in the state.

It’s possible that the Senate may want to make some changes to this part of the House bill.

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

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