In Key Vote, Senate Committee Approves Health Care Bill

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Vital Signs: Vermont Charts A New Course For Health Care

(Host) Governor Shumlin’s plan to restructure the state’s health care system has won the unanimous approval of an important Senate committee.

And as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the key to winning the support of everyone on the committee was a provision that calls for a comprehensive study before the state considers adopting a single payer system.

(Kinzel) The legislation has several important parts.

It sets up "exchanges" that are designed to help consumers compare the cost of various health care policies based on a common benefits package.

The exchanges will go into effect in 2014 and they’ll allow the state to draw down millions of federal dollars to help subsidize policies for low and middle people as part of the new federal health care law.

The bill also creates a new five person Health Care Board that will oversee virtually every aspect of health care in the state.

Addison senator Claire Ayer is the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare committee.  She hopes the unanimous vote will send a strong message to the rest of the Senate.

(Ayer) "I hope so I hope it does I mean just last week I didn’t think it was going to happen…People had different concerns, very different concerns and we came close enough to meeting them that they signed on to the bill and voted for it so I’m really, really pleased ."

(Kinzel) Rutland senator Kevin Mullin is the only Republican on the committee.  He says he decided to vote for the bill at 3 o’clock in the morning. That’s when he was assured that the panel would support his amendment to thoroughly study the impact of implementing a single payer system well before it’s put into place.   He thinks this study will help deal with the fears that many people have raised with him.

(Mullin) "Fears from the medical community where they feel that they’re going to end up in a system where they’re not going to be adequately reimbursed, fears from the business community that there are going to be unintended consequences of the movement forward to a single pipeline, fears from individuals that they’re going to have less of a benefits package than they currently have today."

(Kinzel) Mullin says he voted for the bill because the state needs to take a new approach in health care because the current system isn’t sustainable.

(Mullin) "Nobody made a compelling argument that the status quo is meeting the needs of Vermonters so I think that this bill puts in place the framework that allows us to gather the information to do the strategic planning to move forward in a way that we have a path towards a sustainable quality health care system in the state of Vermont."

(Kinzel) Senator Ayer says Mullin’s amendment makes a lot of sense.

(Ayer) "I think this says we are not going to go off this diving board until we’re sure there’s plenty of water in the pool."

(Kinzel) The bill will now be reviewed by several other Senate committees before heading to the floor for a vote. That could happen as early as next week.

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

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