Special Commission Would Study Affordable Health Care For All Vermonters

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(Host) Legislation that would ensure that all Vermonters have access to affordable health care will soon be debated by the Vermont Senate.

The proposal calls for a comprehensive study of several ways to achieve the goal – including a state ‘single payer’ system.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There’s a growing realization at the Statehouse among health care leaders that a proposed federal reform bill isn’t going to have a major impact in reducing the number of uninsured Vermonters, in part, because the bill doesn’t go into effect until 2014.

Chittenden senator Doug Racine is the chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare committee and a Democratic candidate for governor.

His new bill calls for a special commission to study several different ways to achieve universal coverage in Vermont.  Racine says it’s clear that current efforts haven’t been successful:

(Racine) "What we’ve been doing in Vermont has been trying to fill in those gaps for people that are uninsured. Well, we have VHAP for some, we have Catamount for some, we’re always trying to patch it together and I think the time for patches is over. I think the time for systemic change is here."

(Kinzel) Racine says maintaining the status quo is no longer an option because it’s estimated that Vermont’s spending on health care will increase by a billion dollars in the next 3 years:

(Racine) "That’s saying a billion dollars more is going to come out of the pockets of Vermonters and Vermont businesses and government – from taxpayer money – to provide health care in this state… and without any guarantee that we’re going to get anything better than what we have right now. And in fact it could get worse than what we have right now."

(Kinzel) And Racine believes people should have coverage independent of their place of work:

(Racine) "We’re finding that there are a lot of uninsured people and underinsured people because people lose their jobs and they move from one job to another and they’re finding themselves without insurance. Or, in this economy, we’re finding a lot of people who are unemployed and therefore uninsured – that’s not how we get to universal access."

(Kinzel) James Haslam is the director of the Vermont Workers Center in Burlington – it’s a group that’s organizing a grass roots movement to have health care considered a human right in Vermont.  He says the bill is a key first step in reforming the state’s health care system:

(Haslam) "The truth is that our health care system is really a mess right now. It’s convoluted and it doesn’t make any sense. So to get out of that mess we need to come up with some answers and what we see in this bill and this effort is more than a study – it’s setting a path to implementing a new health care system. So more than a study it’s developing a blueprint."

(Kinzel) Backers of the bill are hoping it will be debated on the Senate floor by the end of next week.

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

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