Shumlin Administration Outlines Roadmap To Health Care Reform

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(Host) The Shumlin Administration has unveiled a health care plan with a ‘roadmap’ for how the state can implement a single payer system as early as 2014.

And as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the proposal is the first step in a long process in the Legislative debate over health care reform.

(Kinzel) Anya Radar Wallack is the governor’s point person on health care reform.  She told members of the House and Senate Health committees to think of the state’s existing health care system as a building.

In the next few years, she says the governor’s plan will help renovate this building, and at the same time, the Administration wants to construct a second building that will contain the basic elements of a single payer system.

(Wallack) "I think it’s a useful metaphor in the sense that we are not changing how people get their health insurance right now. We are trying to make a difference in terms of costs in the system and get a handle on cost control but we are not fundamentally disrupting the system."

(Kinzel) Wallack says Vermonters will occupy the second building, as early as 2014, if the federal government grants the state a special waiver.

(Wallack) "We’re going to lay out a plan for you that takes you from where we are now to a single payer over a multi year period. That is our goal."

(Kinzel) The plan sets up the framework to implement newly created federal health care exchanges. The exchanges will initially act as an information clearinghouse for all insurance policies sold in the state and they’ll work to streamline administrative paperwork.

The bill also creates a new Board, modeled after the Public Service Board, that will establish an overall state health care budget, review all hospital budgets and capital investments, help set insurance rates and recommend new payment systems.  All five members would be appointed by the Governor.

Rutland senator Kevin Mullin is the vice chairman of the Senate Health committee. He thinks the Board has too much power.

(Mullin) "You are almost signing a blank check. It’s giving a lot of power to that Board and really ceding legislative decision making to that Board… the problem is that you’re having  one person appoint all five members and that’s a dangerous thing."

(Kinzel) But Wallack says most key decisions made by the Board will eventually need Legislative approval.

(Wallack) "So in the short run they just have a lot of work to do to figure out the best methodology for controlling health care costs but I don’t think that that’s an enormous amount of power and it shouldn’t scare people."

(Kinzel) The Administration wants the Legislature to pass this bill during the current session but a number of lawmakers say that time schedule is too ambitious.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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