Health care legislation moves forward in Vt House

04/01/08 4:55PM By Bob Kinzel

(Host) After five hours of debate, the Vermont House gave its preliminary approval this afternoon to legislation that backers hope will help slow down the growth of health care costs in Vermont.

But critics question how effective the bill is going to be.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) At the start of the session, members of the House Health Care committee wanted to make some significant expansions to Catamount Health - that's the state's program for uninsured Vermonters. But when it became apparent that the state didn't have enough money to fund these initiatives, the committee scaled back its proposal.

Middlebury Rep. Steve Maier is the chairman of the committee:

(Maier) "It's fair to say that none of us are completely satisfied with what we've been able to bring forward this year but much more needs to be done in health care yet we know that these next steps represented by H887 are good and that we must continue to sustain our progress in health care reform."

The legislation allows young adult children to remain on their parent's policies until they turn 24. The committee took this approach because it's estimated that 25% of all uninsured people in Vermont are under the age of 25.

The bill creates a new state health insurance policy that offers lower premiums to individuals who agree to participate in wellness programs and it seeks a federal waiver to reduce the waiting period for Catamount coverage from 12 months to 6 months.

It also expands higher education loan forgiveness programs for people in the health care field.

Hardwick Rep. Lucy Leriche says the bill contains some important initiatives:

(Leriche) "Health care reform is complicated. There is no single simple answer to ensure everyone has quality health care that they can afford it will be a long tough struggle but we have a better start in Vermont than in any other state."

Critics of the bill spanned the political spectrum. Barre Town Republican Tom Koch argued that this is the wrong time to expand Catamount:

(Koch) "We don't know if it's going to be oversubscribed or under subscribed, over budget or under budget, but we're going and changing it as soon as we can without any realization or knowledge or understanding or even good predictability as to the consequences."

While others, like Burlington Progressive Chris Pearson said the bill doesn't go far enough. He wants the state to adopt a single payer system that provides health care to all Vermonters:

(Pearson) "This bill asks for another study that will no doubt demonstrate that tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars we will save under comprehensive universal health care."

The legislation calls for grants to help health care providers develop electronic medical records.

The plan is paid for by imposing a small surcharge on all health care claims. Lawmakers will consider the surcharge as part of the debate over next year's budget.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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