Republicans, Democrats Defend Actions on Health Care Costs

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas will be in Seattle this weekend to work on health care issues at a meeting of the National Governors’ Association. Health care in Vermont has emerged as a central issue this political season, with Republican and Democratic leaders blaming each other for the Legislature’s failure to enact comprehensive reform.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) On the campaign trail, Governor Douglas blames Senate Democrats for blocking his health care reform efforts. He also accuses Democrats of failing to put forward health reform proposals of their own.

The Democrats have fired back. Chittenden County Senator Jim Leddy, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, sent a letter to the governor late last week saying it was the Republican-controlled House, not Senate Democrats, that removed key parts of the governor’s bill. Leddy says that the administration failed to name a point person to work on health care until quite late in the legislative session.

At a news conference on Thursday, Douglas responded.

(Douglas) “The record is quite evident. The House passed a health insurance reform measure, the Senate did not. That’s the bottom line.”

(Dillon) The Democratic candidate for governor, Peter Clavelle, has made health care a major focus of his campaign.

And Douglas clearly believes partisan politics are a factor in the escalating debate. The governor says Leddy’s letter was distributed to the media before he received it.

(Douglas) “Let me put it this way, when a reporter has a letter before I see it, I certainly question motives.”

(Dillon) Leddy says he waited several days after he mailed the letter before sending it to the media.

(Leddy) “I think my letter to the governor was in response to his very public criticism, repeated criticism, that the Senate was the problem, that the Senate didn’t consider his bill. What I did in my letter was simply set the record straight in terms of factually what happened with that bill, where the key component of it was gutted by the House, by the House Ways and Means Committee, which was a Republic-controlled committee.”

(Dillon) Leddy says he’s worked closely with the administration on a number of health care issues, and wants to continue that relationship. He said the real issue the 62,000 Vermonters without health coverage.

(Leddy) “I think we can be distracted by the politics of the season, but we’ve got to stay focused on what the problem is.”

(Dillon) The Senate Democrat has assembled a coalition of business groups and non-profit organizations to work on health care reform. Governor Douglas says he stands ready to help in that effort.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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