MIDDLEBURY — U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont’s senior senator, said if re-elected next month he will continue to work to secure a waiver for Vermont to enact more sweeping health care reforms sooner than the 2017 timeline mandated under current federal law.
“The way the law is written almost begs for some areas of experimentation, provided you still have the basic health protections that were written into it,” the Middlesex Democrat said during a recent interview at the Addison Independent.
Vermont’s small population makes it a good candidate for federal waiver consideration, Leahy added.
“If you had California coming in, then you get the question of ‘Is the tail wagging the dog?’ and it might be more difficult,” Leahy said.
Some provisions of the new federal health care law began taking effect this year. For example, starting Sept. 23, young adults were allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they turn 26.
Leahy praised the new changes, though he acknowledged some states’ desire to take on more dramatic reforms than those prescribed under the law.
“I would have preferred a single-payer (system) anyway, nationwide,” Leahy said. “My guess is that’s what’s going to happen is people are going to find a lot to like about the (federal) health care bill.”
Leahy does not anticipate a groundswell of support for taking away the new health care rights now that some of those rights have taken effect.
“A lot of people are running around saying, ‘I’m running to go to Washington and repeal (the health care law),’” Leahy said. “That’s not going to happen.”
What will likely happen, according to Leahy, proponents of the health care law will come around to a willingness to consider some changes to improve its effectiveness.
“This is complex enough that in a nation of 300 million people, you are going to have to do some fine-tuning,” Leahy said. “You are going to have to have the flexibility so that if a state has a better idea, they can do it.”
Leahy cited Vermont’s Dr. Dynasaur program for needy children as an example of a state health care program that has proved itself outside of the federal government’s oversight.
“You’ve got to have some improvement to experiment, but the most important thing is: Have basic health care for everybody,” Leahy said. “We are the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t.”
Other topics Leahy discussed included:
• Don’t ask, don’t tell. Leahy reiterated his belief that Congress should repeal the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with respect to gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the U.S. military. Congress was unable to garner enough votes to pass such a measure late this summer.
Leahy said the military, by not making its ranks open to openly homosexual citizens, is losing access to people with valuable skills — such as interpreters that could help troops fighting in the Middle East.
“Everyone who has served in the military for any period of time knows that of course they are serving with gays,” Leahy said. “Just ask (of soldiers) ‘Are they doing their job?’ If they are not doing their job, get rid of them. But not because of their sexual orientation.”
• Renewable energy. Leahy said he is concerned when he hears American entrepreneurs talk about erecting wind turbines they must now purchase from China and other big nations with which the United States is competing.
The federal government, according to Leahy, should provide economic incentives to domestic producers of renewable energy technology. He noted the federal government’s longtime subsidy of the oil industry and said it was time to divert some of those resources to renewable-energy technologies.
“We give huge tax breaks to the oil and gas industry,” Leahy said. “We even give it for the production of ethanol. Why don’t we do more for the development of wind, solar and various types of methane — whether it is at a landfill or a manure pond.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]