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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen



Health care, anyone?

Down in D.C., health-care legislation is on the line. Vermont’s delegation is hoping the Senate bill passes the House this week, an outcome that is in question, with further details to be worked out in a reconciliation bill.

It could be that by week’s end, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has joined his House colleagues in voting for either the Senate plan or the reconciliation bill, but the timing is as much up in the air as the outcome.

What’s on the table is not quite what any of Vermont’s three-member delegation wanted, but it’s got enough to make them prefer it over nothing.

They like the idea that the plan would make health insurance available to more people: High-risk people would have access to lower-cost plans. Insurance companies would be barred from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. Children could stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. Adults without coverage could shop for plans through an exchange, theoretically at lower prices. Many employers would be penalized for not providing insurance, but could receive tax credits to help pay for it.

"Congressman Welch is going to continue pushing for a bill that extends
coverage to all Americans, ends abusive health insurance company
practices and makes health coverage more affordable for families and
businesses,” Welch spokesman Paul Heintz said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is keen on the projection that this legislation would offer 74,000 more Vermonters health coverage, spokesman David Carle said. Leahy is also hoping the final version will institute rate reviews for sizable premium hikes, he said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has his eye on $12.5 billion for health centers and doctor training, which he expects to survive the process, spokesman Michael Briggs said. Researchers at George Washington University have estimated it would save $17 billion in Medicaid costs over five years by providing those patients with preventive rather than emergency care, Briggs said.

The plan doesn’t have the public option that all three members of Vermont’s delegation back. Sanders hasn’t given up hope for it, but also looks to an option in the Senate plan that would allow states to establish their own single-payer program starting in 2017, Briggs said. Sanders hopes to see that date changed to 2014, he said.

Welch and Leahy also pledge to keep working on mandatory prescription drug-price negotiations and a repeal of the insurance industry’s exemption from anti-trust laws.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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