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State panel will propose health care options to adopt in 2011

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Posted on April 19, 2010 |
By John Flowers



MONTPELIER — Rep. Steve Maier, D-Middlebury, is in line to participate on a new state commission that would be charged with developing and recommending a new health care system accessible to all Vermonters.

At issue is S.88, also known as the “Health Care Financing and Universal Access to Health Care in Vermont Act.” Passed by the state Senate last week, the legislation would establish a Vermont Health Care Reform Commission charged with proposing “at least three design options — including implementation plans — for creating a single system of health care which ensures all Vermonters have access to, and coverage for, affordable, quality health services through a public or private single-payer or multi-payer system … ”

That system, according to the legislation, must meet the goals of being “transparent, efficient and accountable to the people it serves,” and must be sustainable and financially solvent with reduced administrative costs and devoid of “unnecessary expenditures.”

S.88 requires that a government-administered, single-payer health care system be one of the options studied by the eight-member commission, which is being directed to present its work to the governor and Legislature by Feb. 1, 2011. Plans call for the lawmakers and the governor to select a leading health care option and to begin implementing it “no later than July 1, 2012.”

The House Health Committee on Thursday voted 9-2 to send S.88 to the full House for a final vote that is expected to occur this week. Maier, who chairs the House Health Care Committee, said his panel added some language to the bill but did not change its major provisions.

“We have some work to do that will hopefully add to the bill,” Maier said, alluding to flexibility that would allow the state to change the way health care is delivered and paid for in Vermont.

Maier added he thus far had not heard opposition to the bill from the Douglas administration, which will not be in office next year.

Maier expects to become a member of the commission, which would give him input in the process.

“It is a very aggressive timeframe to get the work done in time for the next session, so I am hopeful we can get things done as soon as possible,” Maier said.

He expects the commission will release some draft health care options by Jan. 1, 2011, to allow for a public review of the various scenarios before the Feb. 1 due date.

Along with a single-payer option, Maier believes the commission will define a “public health care option,” such as has been floated through federal legislation, that would compete in the market with private insurance plans.

Throughout its study process, the Vermont Health care Reform Commission will have to keep its eye on what effects the recently passed federal health care law will have on what the Green Mountain State ultimately implements.

State officials recently estimated the new federal law could cost Vermont $6.8 million over the next two years, largely associated with the state’s Catamount Health Plan and rebates for Medicaid prescription drugs. But Maier believes Vermont’s health care system will gain more financially in the long-term through the new federal law than it will lose in the short term.

“There will be a negative impact on our state for this year and next year — a few million dollars,” Maier said. “But it is pretty clear that on the money side, we will get much more than that over the next several years.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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