Seniors’ health care takes center stage of gubernatorial campaign

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(Host) Health care – and who would do more to protect the state’s seniors – has emerged as a dominant issue in the Vermont governor’s race. Democratic candidate Peter Clavelle says that Governor Jim Douglas’ support of a new federal Medicare reform law threatens prescription drug benefits for thousands of Vermonters. Douglas says he’ll make sure that Vermont seniors keep their benefits.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) According to Peter Clavelle, Douglas’ loyalty to President Bush has harmed the state’s senior citizens who now get prescription drug benefits under a state program. A new federal Medicare law that Douglas supported threatens to reduce federal matching funds that the state now uses to help seniors pay for prescriptions.

(Clavelle) “The governor continues to make mistake after mistake. He made a mistake by supporting the Bush Medicare bill, which is a disaster for Vermont. He called it progress. He has not aggressively sought the waivers that would be in the best interests of Vermonters. Now he has suggested that there will be no harm done to Vermonters. But we haven’t seen a plan. This is a man without a plan.”

(Dillon) In a new television ad, Clavelle says that the Bush Medicare bill could cut drug benefits for 13,000 Vermonters.

Douglas says that charge is wrong, because he’s promised that if the state loses the federal money, he’ll make up with difference with state funds.

(Douglas) “It’s totally false. I made it very clear that the seniors who benefit from the V-Script program, the pharmacy benefits under our state’s Medicaid program, will be held harmless. It’s very important that we make those services available and we’re doing what we can to work with the federal government to get some assistance there. And if not we’ll find a way to make sure those benefits continue.”

(Dillon) Clavelle says the governor needs to say where that money will come from. And he defends the accuracy of his ad.

(Clavelle) “The number of folks covered by this benefit come from the state’s Web site. Again, it’s saying they’re at risk. And they’re at risk if we don’t come forth with a solution. And the solution, it seems, is to either raise taxes or to throw some folks overboard.”

(Dillon) The state is now running a budget surplus but Douglas has asked state officials to prepare for two percent budget cuts. He says the state may need the money for increased costs in corrections and in health care, including the prescription drug program.

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

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