Vermont Senate, Governor At Odds Over Latest Health Care Reforms

April 3, 2006

New tensions are emerging between Vermont Senate leaders and the governor as the latest version of a health care reform initiative takes shape, renewing questions about whether a bill can be enacted this year.

Senators say they’re trying to bridge the differences between the House version of reform that focuses on a new government-sponsored health insurance program and Gov. James Douglas’ proposal, which would rely more heavily on private insurance.

The administration does not share that view of what the Senate is trying to do and has raised pointed questions about whether senators truly are interested in enacting a law this year. “They have to decide if they want a bill or whether they just want an issue,” Douglas said at his weekly news conference.

But members of the House and now of the Senate have said they want to incorporate provisions of the governor’s proposal — requiring people to accept employer-sponsored insurance if it’s available — but the numbers don’t add up and there are major unanswered questions about how it would work.

Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman James Leddy, D-Chittenden, helped draft a detailed two-page letter to Administration Secretary Michael Smith questioning a raft of policy concerns about the governor’s plan.

The issues are detailed and somewhat mundane, but they’re key to whether the plan would actually ensure people have insurance coverage.

“We do appreciate the combined work toward consensus on numbers and look forward to giving the (employer-sponsored insurance) proposal the thoughtful consideration it deserves,” the senators wrote.

One of the administration’s chief concerns is that it believes the Democrats are still trying to devise a government-controlled health care system that would leave the state on the hook for any big insurance losses.

‘”I really believe the House and Senate have to accept we’re not going to have a government-run plan,” Douglas said. “I think there are some very seriously held philosophical differences. But I think there is some middle ground if they’re willing to work with me to get there.”

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