Politics enters debate on health care reform

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(Host) The political fight for health care reform is heating up at the Statehouse. House Republicans are challenging Democratic leaders to enact a Medicaid reform bill by the end of this year’s session. The Democrats say they aren’t going to be pressured into passing a bill that doesn’t meet the needs of the state.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When the Legislative session started, Republican and Democratic leaders called for bi-partisan solutions to the state’s health care problems, and there was a lot of talk about the importance of working together to deal with these issues. Now as the session approaches the end of its first month, significant divisions between the parties are beginning to appear.

There’s no dispute about the size of the Medicaid problem. The program will record roughly a $20 million deficit this year and the shortfall will grow to nearly $75 million next year if no action is taken. House Republican whip David Sunderland says he’s concerned that the Democrats are not treating this problem with a sense of urgency.

(Sunderland) “We’re very discouraged to hear the House Democratic leadership continually back-pedal from their campaign commitments to immediately address the most important health care issues for Vermonters. Already this session, the Democratic leadership has said that any health care solution will take both years of the legislative biennium to develop. The Medicaid crisis simply cannot wait two years for the attention of the House of Representatives.”

(Kinzel) Burlington Representative John Tracy chairs the special House committee on Health Care. Tracy says he wants his committee to develop a comprehensive, long-term solution to the Medicaid problem and he’s not interested in quick fixes.

(Tracy) “But we’re not running after that Frisbee that the governor threw out and telling us we’re supposed to have it done by the end of the year. It’s not that simple, Vermonters know it’s not that simple. I think they’d rather we do the job correctly and get affordable health care to all Vermonters that’s equitable and fair. We want to do what’s right for Vermont and something that works and we’re not going to let an arbitrary deadline that, I think, has been put out there for political purposes. ‘We’re going to give you a date at the end of the year and if you don’t have it you failed.’ That’s baloney!”

(Kinzel) Governor Douglas is urging lawmakers to adopt a Medicaid reform plan that requires a waiver from the federal government to give the state much more flexibility in using federal Medicaid funds. Douglas says he’s optimistic that the Bush administration will grant this waiver but the governor says he doesn’t have an alternative solution in the event that the waiver is not approved in a timely manner.

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

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