Senate Gives Preliminary Approval To Health Care Bill

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(Host) After hours of debate, the Senate last night gave its preliminary approval to Governor Peter Shumlin’s health care bill.   The vote on the measure was 21 to 8. 

Backers of the bill said it’s needed to help curb the skyrocketing cost of health care.  They note that these costs have doubled in Vermont in the past 5 years and that 200,000 Vermonters are still either uninsured or underinsured.

Addison senator Claire Ayer is the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare committee:

(Ayer) "We spend more per capita than any other country on the planet and we don’t get the best care that we could. Doing nothing is not an option staying on this health care track is how we got where we are today. This is our opportunity to move forward, control health care costs and improve health care quality for Vermont."

(Host) The legislation creates so called exchanges that are required under the new federal health care law.  The exchanges would go into effect in 2014.

These exchanges would act as a marketplace where consumers could compare private insurance policies based on a common benefits package.

The exchanges would also allow the state to draw down millions of dollars in new federal funds to subsidize policies for low and middle income people.

Rutland senator Kevin Mullin says a key goal of the bill is to lower health care costs for businesses:

(Mullin) "Because of the biggest expenses that any entrepreneur or small business has is their health care cost for their employees and if we do this right if we can create an environment that will be a welcoming environment for people to try new ideas and try new businesses and ultimately some of those will succeed and grow."

(Host) The bill also establishes a new 5-person board that will oversee virtually every aspect of health care in Vermont.

Franklin senator Randy Brock opposed the bill because he thinks the legislation inevitably sets the state on a course to a single payer system:

(Brock) "What we’re doing here is establishing a structure. We’re establishing a pathway and like cattle being herded to the slaughter we’re walking down a chute that grows narrower the further we go as time advances and I’m concerned that they’ll come a point in which you’re not going to be able to turn around."

(Host) And Caledonia senator Joe Benning said it was wrong to pass a bill that doesn’t clearly outline how it will eventually be paid for:

(Benning) "It is irresponsible to fail to decide how much money will be spent or how that money can be sustained."

(Host) The legislation is scheduled to come up for final approval in the Senate later today.

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