Vermont's top elected officials from across the political spectrum came together in Montpelier Monday morning to show their opposition to U.S. Senate Republicans' health care proposal.
At a news conference in Gov. Phil Scott's ceremonial office, Republicans and Democrats elected by Vermonters said they agree that existing health care system in the U.S. is flawed. Even though they disagree on how to fix it, the consensus Monday morning was that Republicans in the U.S. Senate are doing it wrong.
Scott and state legislative leaders said the steep cuts to Medicaid spending in the Senate bill make it something they cannot support.
“I believe it is clear: Reforms to the current systems are very much needed. I have advocated that Congress ensure changes that do not undermine coverage or reduce funding that have supported Medicaid expansion,” Scott said.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said a previous version of the Senate bill would lead to 22 million Americans losing their health insurance coverage over a 10-year period. The new bill contains some changes, but the proposed cuts to Medicaid are still included in the U.S. Senate plan.
Sen. Dustin Degree of Franklin County is the Senate minority leader in Vermont, and he said he doesn’t agree with the bill proposed by his counterparts at the federal level.
“As a Republican, fiscal constraint to the point of frugality – along with affordability – are my top priorities,” Degree said. “But as a public servant, I have always strived to balance public investments we make into our institutions with our economic climate. Based on these principles I, like many of my colleagues across the aisle, have been frustrated by how much faster health care costs, public and private, have grown than the economy or wages in the last decade.”
Degree said he doesn’t see the proposed cuts as the right solution to the cost of health care.
“I do not think that the cuts envisioned in the federal health care bill will stop people from getting sick and requiring services, nor do I think it will help Vermonters afford those expenses they’ve incurred,” he said.
House Minority Leader Don Turner said he was opposed to the Affordable Care Act when it passed, but he says it helped some Vermonters and the current bill would be counterproductive.
“Vermont did expand coverage under the ACA, and the proposed cuts to the federal Medicaid funding would affect more than 200,000 Vermonters who now depend on this funding for their health care coverage," he said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders says the bill won't just hurt individuals and families.
“This legislation would threaten the very existence of rural hospitals in our state and throughout this country, many of whom are depending on Medicaid,” Sanders said. “This bill would do severe damage to federally qualified community health centers all over the state.”
Sanders, who has long been an advocate of federal funding for community health centers, also pointed out that about 25 percent of all Vermonters receive primary care at a federally qualified community health center.
Vermont’s senators both say they’ll vote against the Senate Republican plan, but both have pitched their own ideas to improve the health care system separate from Republican efforts.
Leahy has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for name-brand pharmaceutical companies to use obstructionist practices to prevent generic alternatives of those drugs from making it into the market.
Sanders said Monday morning what he has said for years: He believes the best solution is a “Single-Payer” plan in which the government pays for health care for everyone. Sanders said in March that he planned to introduce legislation to create such a system “within a couple of weeks,” but he still hasn’t introduced any such legislation, according to Congress.gov.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has not yet studied the latest bill, but the CBO said a bill with similar Medicaid cuts proposed earlier this year would have left 22 million more people without insurance over ten years.