Senate Plans Changes to Health Bill

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(Host) Senate Democratic leaders say they plan to make significant changes to the health care reform bill passed by the House this week. It’s very unlikely that the plan that emerges from the Senate will include a provision calling for a publicly financed system.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Senate President Pro Tem, Peter Welch, says he’s committed to passing a health care reform measure this year. But Welch says it’s likely that the Senate will chart a different course than the approach taken by the House.

The House plan called for a major overhaul of the state’s health care system that included plans to separate health care coverage from a person’s place of employment by developing a publicly financed system.

Governor Jim Douglas has threatened to veto the bill over this provision.

Welch says the Senate won’t support the public funding approach because that decision would lead to a political stalemate at the Statehouse:

(Welch) “If we want to just have a political showdown, then we could pass the House bill and the governor would veto it and we’d have the blame game for another six months, but not a single new Vermonter would have access to health care. We don’t want to do that, so we’re taking into account the reality that the same Vermonters who elected us to the Senate and to the House elected the governor.”

(Kinzel) Instead, Welch says the Senate will concentrate on ways to provide universal access and contain costs.

(Welch) “The biggest obstacle to universal access is the exploding cost of health care. So cost containment is extremely important on the Senate side. We’re going to focus on cost containment and extending access that’s critical to us.”

(Kinzel) Senate Health and Welfare committee Chairman, Jim Leddy, backs the decision not to adopt a publicly financed system. Leddy says it’s important for the Senate to craft a bill that draws some Republican support. And he wants to develop a plan that will encourage all businesses to offer coverage to their employees.

(Leddy) “I think we seem to have strong overwhelming support for that. What we need to get is the support for the best means to accomplish that. And clearly the House bill has passed. And it passed it generally on partisan lines. I think for us to move forward on such an important issue, we have to have as much common ground as possible and as much broad support as possible.”

(Kinzel) Senate leaders are hoping to have a bill on the floor for debate in several weeks.

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

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