Vermont gubernatorial candidates’ approaches to health care vary widely

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(Host) Vermont’s three gubernatorial candidates have very different plans to provide affordable health care coverage to all Vermonters.

Their views range from expanding the private market approach to creating a single risk pool for all Vermonters that would be financed by a broad based tax.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Health care reform remains a critical issue because the cost of medical care continues to rise much faster than the rate of inflation. Vermont hospitals recently won state approval to boost their rates, on average, by almost 10 percent.

Independent candidate Anthony Pollina is backing the biggest change to the way health care is currently provided in Vermont.

Pollina says the current system is broken and should be replaced with a single payer system that’s modeled after the federal Medicare program. It would be financed by using state tax dollars.

(Pollina) “So when you look at health care, you have to start with the knowledge that what we are doing is not working and it is bankrupting businesses and it is undermining our state budget. We are not controlling costs at all, so it is clearly time to go down a different path."

(Kinzel) Republican incumbent Jim Douglas says Pollina’s plan will drive up taxes and fail to control costs. He says the state’s current program, known as Catamount Health Care, is a better way to provide coverage to uninsured Vermonters.

Douglas says one way to make Catamount more affordable is to create a new plan that offers cheaper rates in return for fewer benefits and higher deductibles.

(Douglas) “One idea that I’m looking at is something I’m tentatively calling Catamount Light – a plan that is less extensive, less costly, something that would provide some level of coverage to Vermonters who might not otherwise choose to or be able to afford another plan."

(Kinzel) Douglas also believes that Vermonters should be allowed to purchase health care insurance from out-of-state companies.

(Douglas) “In this 21st century economy, people can log onto to the Internet and see what premiums are like in other states. And in many cases they’re a lot less. We buy auto insurance online. We buy life insurance online. I think it would be great to find a way to do that for health insurance, as well."

(Kinzel) Democratic candidate Gaye Symington opposes this plan because, she says, the insurance companies will cover only young and healthy Vermonters – leaving older and sicker individuals to rely on state programs. It’s a move she says will drive up the cost of these programs.

(Symington) “I think that that would move Vermont away from the notion of a community risk pool. It would allow for more cherry picking. It would allow for more administrative hassles within the system."

(Kinzel) Instead, Symington wants to expand Catamount and she’s calling for a major change in the way that health care providers are paid.

(Symington) “We can do that by reimbursing our health care providers for the steps of keeping people healthy. Right now we don’t. Our reimbursements and incentives are geared towards procedures, tests and fixing folks when they’re ill."

(Kinzel) Symington says it will be difficult for Vermont to achieve universal access without the strong help of the federal government and she says she looks forward to working with a Democratic president and Congress who are committed to make major changes in the health care system.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier


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