Vermont's Congressional Delegation: Pass Bipartisan Health Care Plan Now

Oct 9, 2017

With the demise of recent Republican efforts in Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, all three members of Vermont's delegation are backing bipartisan efforts to strengthen the law.

The bipartisan approach in the Senate is being led by Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Health Care committee, and Washington Democrat Patty Murray, the ranking minority member of the panel.

The goal is to stabilize the health care market under the Affordable Care Act and implement steps that they believe will lead to more affordable premiums.

Their initiative comes at a time when premium increases in some states are as high as 50 percent. In Vermont, the Green Mountain Care Board has granted Blue Cross and Blue Shield a roughly 9 percent increase for its ACA policies.

Sen. Patrick Leahy says he's optimistic that the Alexander-Murray collaboration will get a thorough review.

"I've encouraged them to continue, they're both highly respected,” said Leahy. “I think the Republican leadership – Sen. McConnell and others  -- should step back, let them work on something, let them have hearings."

Leahy says it's clear that any health care plan has to have bipartisan support if it's going to be successful.

"We have to have Democrats and Republicans at the table; you can't say we'll set up something but we're not going to allow you to be here,” Leahy said. “The House has tried that and they failed on immigration because of that. Here we have to work together." 

"We have to have Democrats and Republicans at the table, you can't say we'll set up something but we're not going to allow you to be here."—Sen. Patrick Leahy

The proposal makes a long term commitment to individual subsidies, it keeps the individual mandate requiring everyone to have health insurance, it gives states the flexibility to implement innovative programs, and it creates a re-insurance pool for people with the greatest health care needs.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation that expands Medicare to cover all Americans.

He acknowledges that it will take years to achieve this goal so he's backing these efforts as a bridge to get to his single-payer plan. 

"The short term goal is to in fact improve the Affordable Care Act which has many, many problems,” said Sanders. “Deductibles [are] too high, co-payments too high, premiums are too high, cost of prescription drugs way, way too high. So I hope that we can work with our Republican colleagues.”

"The short term goal is to, in fact, improve the Affordable Care Act which has many, many problems... So I hope that we can work with our Republican colleagues."—Sen. Bernie Sanders

Both Sanders and Leahy think the bipartisan approach would pass in the Senate if GOP leaders allow it to come to the floor for a vote.

However, the outlook in the House is much different. Rep. Peter Welch says there's a lot of pressure on Republican members not to take any steps that would strengthen the Affordable Care Act.

"There's much more jeopardy for them coming forward saying that they're willing to fix some broken aspects of Obamacare because it indicates that they are also willing to acknowledge that there are some very good parts of Obamacare," said Welch.  

But Welch thinks the success of a bipartisan plan could be the first step in a major reform of health care in this country.

"There are things in health care that are broken and both sides have to acknowledge that and both sides have the responsibility to try and fix it,” said Welch. “If we made progress on the individual market, bipartisan, it could break the fever and we could start looking at other broken aspects of the health care system."  

The bipartisan Alexander-Murray approach is also being supported by a coalition of Republican and Democratic governors including Vermont Gov. Phil Scott.

It's expected that the Senate Health Care committee will hold additional hearings on this plan in the coming weeks.