Senate Embraces Governor's Health Care Overhaul Plan
04/26/11 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel  Download MP3
(Host) After a full day of debate, the Senate has given its final approval to legislation that makes significant changes to the state's health care system.
The Senate bill is slightly different from the approach taken by the House last month.
But, as VPR's Bob Kinzel reports, legislative leaders believe it will be easy to resolve those issues and send the plan to the Governor.
(Lt. Gov. Scott) "Please listen to the results of your vote, the yeas 21 the nays 9 and you have passed H202 in concurrence with proposal."
(Kinzel) The Senate considered a number of amendments during its debate but rejected every effort to change the basic policies of the bill.
The legislation creates exchanges where consumers can compare private health insurance policies and the exchanges will also allow the state to receive millions of federal dollars to help subsidize coverage for low and middle income people.
The legislation also establishes a 5 member Board that will oversee virtually every aspect of health care in the state and it lays out the framework for a publicly financed system that could go into place as early as 2014.
Washington senator Anthony Pollina said the bill is a first step to provide all Vermonters with health care.
(Pollina) "Our job is to be a voice for those people who still need access to affordable care when they need it. That's the promise of this bill and that's why it's not a perfect bill I think it's a bill that we should all support because it moves us in a direction taking care of all of us we're all a community that's how it's supposed to work."
(Kinzel) And Caledonia senator Jane Kitchel said it's important to remember that the bill doesn't necessarily mandate a single payer system.
(Kitchel) "We are not locked into a single payer. The foundation that we're building certainly can lead us there but this road is going to have many forks and many decisions that will ultimately determine where we go."
(Kinzel) Chittenden senator Diane Snelling said she voted against the bill because key questions about the costs of the plan have been put off until 2013.
(Snelling)"I remain unconvinced that we need to move this fast in this direction at this time. There's a fundamental issue that I'm thinking about: how can we know what the savings are before we understand the costs?"
(Kinzel) A House Senate conference committee will now meet to resolve the differences between the two chambers. House Health Care chairman Mark Larson says that job will be pretty easy.
(Larson) "Their goals are similar in terms of trying to make sure that we cover all Vermonters with comprehensive health care... That we create mechanisms to control health care costs and we make our system more fair and address some of the concerns about the inequities of our current health care system. So both in terms of the policy they've proposed and the intent that they have I think they're very similar efforts and we'll resolve our differences quickly."
(Kinzel) Larson says the biggest difference between the House and Senate bills is the role of the new Health Care Board and whether or not the planning functions of the Board should be performed by other departments of state government.
For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.