Vt. House Committee Kills Health Subsidy Legislation

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The House Health Care committee has voted to kill legislation that provides subsidies to help low and moderate income Vermonters purchase health insurance.

Some of the committee members voted against the bill because it went too far, and others voted against because it didn’t go far enough.

Here’s the dilemma facing the committee. At the end of the year, the state’s health care program for low and moderate income people, known as Catamount Health Care, will be eliminated and participants in the program will be enrolled in a new State Exchange and be eligible for federal subsidies.

But the potential out of pocket expenses of a policy in the Exchange are considerably larger than those in the Catamount plan.

The Shumlin Administration has proposed closing the gap but their plan still leaves some people with several thousand dollars of possible financial exposure.

Lincoln Rep. Mike Fisher is the chair of the House Health Care committee. He supported the Administration’s plan and was very disappointed when a coalition of 3 Republicans, a Progressive and an Independent voted against the final version of the bill.

"I think at the end of the day there were members who couldn’t accept the victory of being one of only two states that have a state subsidy," said Fisher.  "They wanted more and felt principled in that position but the end result is that there’s no bill."

Barre Rep. Paul Poirier is the Independent on the panel. He says the bill was unfair to Catamount participants.

"The Administration’s proposal is to have these high out of pocket deductibles and they knew about it and they said we don’t have the money to soften that cushion," said Poirier. "Some just wanted to vote against the bill they don’t like it, two of us voted against it because it doesn’t treat people who have been on the Catamount system fairly."

The overall bill also included a tax on sugar sweetened beverages. Committee chair Fisher thinks the tax is dead for the rest of the year.

"This is a health care bill – it’s motivated not for the purpose of raising money but for the purpose of changing health outcomes," said Fisher. "If the Health Care committee doesn’t vote in favor of the sugar sweetened beverage tax bill it’s hard for me to imagine how it picks up in any other committee."

Other elements of the bill, including the subsidies, could resurface in the coming weeks as the Ways and Means committee and the Appropriations committee review different parts of the legislation.







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