At Last: An Opportunity to Begin to Control the Cost of Health Care

Op Ed - At Last: An Opportunity to Begin to Control the Cost of Health Care - Cornelius Hogan

After several expensive and tentative efforts by the Legislature to 'reform' health care, there is finally an opportunity to do something serious about controlling the costs of health care in the near term.

There seems to be more and more political consensus that the virulent rise in health care costs is taking a serious toll on family, business, town and city, and State finances. Rising health care cost is contributing mightily to personal budget problems of many Vermonters, including many who used to be considered beyond the problem, those that we used to call the middle class. School budget increases are being pushed higher primarily by rising health care costs resulting in extremely painful and even unwise decisions to cut school programs and even teachers to bring in budgets that the voters can pass. Business, which for many years was the patron of comprehensive health care for their employees, has been steadily forced to reduce benefits, and in some cases, even drop benefits for their employees.

However, even those initiatives to try and control costs haven't worked, with the result that health care costs are now a serious drag on the ability of business to turn their needed profit, with the result that wages increases, and the hiring of additional employees, particularly in the small business sector, the backbone of Vermont's economy, is being stifled.

So why should we be optimistic that the Legislature can get on with doing something about this? Simply because there is now a well constructed bill that has been introduced by a Republican, a Democrat, and a Progressive in the form of H 304, the "Hospital Security Bill". And the Chair of the House Health Committee along with the bipartisan House/Senate Committee on Health Care Reform have finally agreed to take up the bill.

H304 would ensure that ALL Vermonters would get a hospital coverage benefit, financed by a combination (for example) of a 5.5% payroll tax along with a $300 annual fee paid by all Vermonters under the age of 65. And in return, Vermonters and businesses would see a reduction in their current premium costs of 40% resulting in businesses and Vermonters paying less than they are paying now. (40% represents the hospital portion of the total health care bill in Vermont.)

Hospitals would benefit by being paid up front, allowing them to eliminate the costly and aggravating work of eligibility determination, benefit determination, advertising, and simply the negotiating and chasing their money from insurance companies and patients. This would save considerable paperwork expense, thereby resulting in many millions less hospital cost.

And, there are some that believe that such an approach would even serve as an economic stimulus for Vermont, as business would view Vermont's economic climate in a more favorable light.

H304 is a bold but common sense proposal, which would noticeably and significantly slow the growth of health care costs to all of us, and even more importantly, would give all Vermonters peace of mind.

Finally, it looks like the environment is ripe for a serious discussion on beginning to control health care costs through the merits of this bill in this new Legislative session.

Cornelius Hogan, Plainfield, co-author, 'At the Crossroads: The Future of Health Care in Vermont'

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