Unfinished Business

Op Ed - Unfinished Business - Cornelius Hogan, Plainfield, VT 1/22/07

Last Spring, after almost two years of legislative and political angst, the Vermont Legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law, the Catamount Health Care Bill. At the time there was considerable rhetoric advanced about the hyper-importance of this legislation. Words and phrases such as 'historic', 'breakthrough', and 'a bill of national significance' were bandied about by those engaging in self congratulations. The bill was also characterized as making health care more 'affordable' by the Governor, and was also presented in the light that it will help moderate the roaring rising costs of health care

Finally, after some months now, the rhetoric is now beginning to match reality. We are now hearing phrases like "Catamount was a start" and 'health care is still on the table', and 'we have much unfinished business'. This shift of rhetoric has been brought about by several dynamics.

First, the people of Vermont have been clear with those who ran for office that it is the short term economic pain that is the clear and present danger. The proposition that super managed care for chronic diseases might begin to slow the rate of health care cost growth sometime after 2010 doesn't cut it for most Vermonters. By 2011, the health care costs for Vermonters will have doubled from current levels again from the levels that triggered the recent health care debate which began in 2004.

Secondly, the recent Blue Cross / Blue Shield proposal to Vermont's cities and towns for a 36% increase sent shock waves across the State. The implications for Barre, for example, would be a $300,000 addition to the City's health care costs.

Finally, recent news accounts have been documenting the economic pain that Vermonters are suffering caused by increasing health care costs. It is so serious that it is now affecting the economic fortunes of the middle class.

Finding ways to control the rising cost of property tax is at the top of the legislative and Administration's agenda as we enter a new legislative biennium. And the fact that a health bill was passed last year will dampen legislative enthusiasm for tackling this nearly intractable problem again. But the new Legislature will quickly understand that the rising cost of health care is now dwarfing property tax increases, and in fact is a serious contributor to the property tax problem.

The nature of this 'unfinished business' must involve taking major, not minor, actions. Actions such as separating the responsibility of providing health care to working people from business itself, by finding new and broader ways to finance the increasing unbearable burden on business and individuals. It will also involve providing some important benefit, such as hospitalization, to ALL Vermonters, which would trigger a broad economic benefit to Vermont business and our people. The 'unfinished business' will be driven by the information contained in yet another recent study, the Thorpe study, which made it clear that even with the most conservative assumptions therein, that there is more than enough money in the existing system to cover ALL Vermonters, if we are willing to break free of the old rules.

The truth of the matter is that this business of trying to control health care costs and cover everyone will never be finished, in that health costs will continue to rise. But we can do a lot better job of it than we've done to date.


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