Another Year of Health Care Reform Failure

Op Ed - Another Year of Health Care Reform Failure - Cornelius Hogan

Yet another year of health care reform failure is behind us. Another year has passed with even more Vermonters uninsured, and for those that have coverage, the costs are even higher than ever. The Vermont Legislature, once again passed a paper and rhetorically heavy 51 page bill (that could have been constructed in 5 pages), again misusing the phrase 'health care reform'.

What did they do?

A few of the worthy things the Legislature did was to begin processes to improve school nutrition, made a few minor adjustments to improve access to Catamount, ordered several studies, and opened the door to more favorable premium treatment for those Vermonters who work hard to improve their health, and set in motion some community level planning regarding population health and well-being. These provisions will require more bureaucratic mandates added to the workloads of both the State workforce, physicians, hospitals, and insurance companies alike. The Legislature also mandated the inventorying of school health programs, a worthy thing to do, but which will have little or no impact on near term cost.

What didn't they do?

The preface of the bill was a well written account of the major problems with the status of our health care system. But the bill addressed very few of the problems so nicely stated.

Because there was no money this year (and probably won't be for the next several years) most of the big ideas hatched by the House Health Committee were left on the cutting room floor. That reality will continue for some time. Further, the Legislature did not require a study which will tell us how many more Vermonters are uninsured. This is a situation where important data which is conveniently out of sight is out of mind.

In one of the summaries about the session, published as an editorial in the Times Argus, it is clear that any serious thinking and action on the badly needed structural changes in health care, were ignored.

The consequences of this continuing inaction is that the price tag for health care premiums for Vermonters (particularly businesses), will continue to rise at rates of between 15 and 25%. Even with the paltry numbers enrolled into Catamount, the number of uninsured will continue to rise (a good case can now be made that the number of uninsured in Vermont is reaching the level of the entire adult populations of Washington and Lamoille Counties). The financial pressures on our hospitals, physicians and other health care providers will continue to become even more difficult.

Overall, the performance of the Legislature on this issue, vital to the pocketbooks and well being of Vermonters, was wanting. In the words of the late Governor Deane Davis, when he was describing Legislative inaction on an issue that he was trying to move, 'This Legislature is like a horse I once owned... a lot of up and down action, but little forward motion'.

Most Vermonters knew that even before the session started.

Cornelius Hogan, Dr. Deb Richter, co-authors of "At The Crossroads: The Future of Health Care in Vermont".

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