Vermont Legislature Tackles Single-Payer Health Bill The Vermont Senate has given preliminary approval to a health care initiative that puts the state on a path to become the first in the country to adopt a single-payer system. Critics say the legislation could drive physicians out of state, limit patient choice and raise taxes. Once the Senate's action is complete, the measure goes back to the House.

Vermont Legislature Tackles Single-Payer Health Bill

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John Dillon of Vermont Public Radio has more.

JOHN DILLON: In town meetings and legislative hearing rooms, hundreds of Vermonters have been telling their health care stories. Many spoke about being part of a health system that's tied to employment, yet doesn't always pay for the care they need.

HEATHER LOUGHLIN: My insurance carrier has denied, denied, denied prescribed treatment at every turn.

DILLON: Total health care costs in Vermont are rising about $350 million a year. And Governor Shumlin says the state could become a national model for cost containment and universal coverage.

PETER SHUMLIN: So our challenge in Vermont is to figure out the first system in the country where we get rid of waste and use our health care dollars to make Vermonters healthier, getting the insurance companies and profits off our providers' backs, and that's the goal.

DILLON: Shumlin and his legislative allies say the state can cover more people with less money by eliminating administrative expenses associated with processing claims for private insurance companies.

NANCY TURNBULL: It's a very big and bold and ambitious proposal of a kind that's never been tried in the United States before.

DILLON: Nancy Turnbull of the Harvard School of Public Health says the bill could lead to fundamental changes in health care financing and delivery.

TURNBULL: The biggest one to me would actually be to essentially cut the connection between employment and health insurance for people.

DILLON: Unidentified Man: Fletcher Allen on side one.

DILLON: Dr. Melinda Estes is the CEO, and she says the legislature has overestimated the savings her institution could achieve under single-payer. And she's also worried about how the coverage would be paid for. Lawmakers have talked about a payroll tax, but the governor has not committed to a funding source.

MELINDA ESTES: And that concerns us both as a provider, but also as a very large employer. We don't know what the program will look like, what that basic set of benefits will be.


DILLON: At the hospital's main entrance, Tina McGrath is waiting for a commuter bus. She's open to the single-payer concept, but, like the hospital CEO, she's also got questions.

TINA MCGRATH: Is it going to give me the same coverage? Is it going to give me less coverage? Is it going to, you know, is my deductible going to be a lot more than it is now? We don't know.

DILLON: For NPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier, Vermont.



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