Health Care

Vermont Republicans join Democrats to oppose health care bill

Phil Scott with Congressional delegation
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., speaks as Gov. Phil Scott, left, and Vermont’s congressional delegation address GOP health care legislation at a press conference Monday. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

In a show of bipartisanship, Gov. Phil Scott joined Vermont’s congressional delegation and legislative leaders to speak out against a health insurance bill being considered in the U.S. Senate.

Scott, a Republican, said the bill would create an unmanageable deficit in the state budget if passed, and that leaders in Congress should be working across party lines to replace the Affordable Care Act with something both Republicans and Democrats would support.

Monday’s news conference came two days after the Republican majority leader in the U.S. Senate announced he would delay consideration of the bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, until a key member, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recovered from an unexpected surgery.

That vote, which was originally scheduled for June, could now be delayed several more weeks.

The bill is the fourth attempt in Congress to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. A similar bill has already passed the U.S. House.

The Senate’s bill would cut federal funding for Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next several years, defund Planned Parenthood for one year, and allow insurance companies to offer less coverage to patients at equal or greater prices.

Leaders and health care experts have said the bill could cost 51,000 Vermonters their health insurance, affect 19,000 Vermonters who visit Planned Parenthood every year, and raise insurance premiums for people using Vermont Health Connect.

“The proposed reductions in Medicaid would leave our state with a budget deficit we could not absorb without cutting health care services for the people who need them the most or significantly raise taxes on already overtaxed Vermonters,” Scott said.

“I agree health care is too costly and the increasing cost is unsustainable,” Scott said. “It is a burden on our employers, families, individuals and taxpayers. The path forward must build on the state-federal partnership and by supporting state innovations that make coverage affordable and improve the health of our residents.”

He called for more cross-party cooperation on health legislation.

Dustin Degree
Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree, R-Franklin. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger ​

“I do not think the Affordable Care Act was perfect by any means, but what may be its biggest shortcoming was that it did not have support — bipartisan support — when it ultimately passed in 2010, and it is imperative we learn from that misstep,” he said.

“We should not make that mistake again because the results will be the same: One team will eventually win and many American citizens will lose.”

Vermont Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree, R-Franklin, said Medicaid covers 15,000 people in Franklin County and that kicking some off their insurance would not stop them from having health problems.

“I, like many of my colleagues, have been frustrated by how much faster health care costs — public and private — have grown than the economy or wages in the last decade,” he said.

“However, I do not think that the cuts envisioned in the federal health care bill will stop people from getting sick and requiring services,” he said. “Nor do I think it will help Vermonters afford those expenses they’ve incurred.”

Vermont House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, said nearly 200,000 people in the state receive some kind of Medicaid benefit, and they rely on that coverage too much for it to be taken away from them.

“That means everyday working Vermonters,” Turner said. “Vermont families with parents and grandparents in nursing homes and receiving community services would be affected. And Vermonters receiving treatment for opioid addiction from Medicaid would also be affected.”

Don Turner
House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger

“Medicaid expansion over the last 10 years, and even prior to the ACA, created a precedent that we cannot repeal overnight without a plan in place to mitigate any adverse financial impacts on the state and on Vermonters,” he said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., showed anger as he cited statistics about the people across Vermont and the country who could be affected by cuts to their Medicaid health insurance: pregnant women, low-income children, people with disabilities, and senior citizens in nursing homes.

Leahy pointed to a boy from West Rutland, Reilly Jakubiak, who has a condition so rare that only five people in the country have it. He said the boy’s parents use Medicaid as secondary insurance to their commercial insurance to pay for a portion of the $100,000 in medications he uses every year.

Leahy also described how Medicaid gives money to schools to cover “essential education services” for children in special education programs. Eventually he pushed his scripted talking points to the side of the podium and raised his voice again.

“These are not statistics,” he said. “These are real people. I guarantee you can go into any neighborhood, any one of your neighborhoods, and you’re going to find people who need this.”

“And I think it’s immoral in the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth to pass something to fit a bumper slogan,” he said. “It is wrong, and I will not vote for it.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the Better Care Reconciliation Act “the most dangerous and destructive piece of legislation ever brought before the United States Senate in the modern history of this country.”

He said “every major health care organization” in the country opposes the bill, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society and AARP.

He said the bill would not lower health care costs but would allow insurance companies to sell people “junk health coverage.”

“In other words, it would give you the freedom to buy cheap insurance,” he said. “Unfortunately, that insurance will not cover your needs, and if you end up in the hospital you’re going to end up with huge deductibles.”

Sanders said healthier people, with cheaper health care needs, would choose the cheap health insurance, while “sicker people will be forced into another pool in which for pre-existing conditions the cost will soar.”

Sanders also slammed Republicans for pushing the bill through the Senate without holding a single public hearing. He said a bill that deals with health care — which is nearly 20 percent of the nation’s economy — should have public hearings.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said the lower chamber sent its version of Obamacare repeal over to the Senate with a limited public process and without getting feedback from nonpartisan economists who work for Congress. (Those economists later estimated that more than 20 million people would no longer have health insurance.)

Instead, Welch said members of his committee received a copy of the bill on a Tuesday morning, then held a 27-hour hearing while members tried to amend the bill as they went along, before the bill passed out of the committee on a party-line vote.

“It’s so bad, the question I really think a lot of Vermonters ask is, ‘How can this be what is presented as reform when, essentially, reform gets translated into taking 22 million people off of health care and giving $800 billion to folks making over $1 million a year?’” Welch said.

“And here’s the answer as I see it,” he said. “There is a philosophy at work in Washington that says, ‘When it comes to addressing the biggest challenges that we all share — and health care and health care security for our families is one of the biggest — you’re on your own.’”

Leahy said there are Republican senators who oppose the bill but tell him only privately, such as in the Senate gym or dining room. He said in an interview: “If it lost by one vote, it would lose by seven or eight” once senators saw how their colleagues would vote.
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  • There are plans available that will mitigate the damage done by federal cuts in healthcare spending but it seems our Washington delegation would rather take the opportunity to criticize the opposition party. I have laid out a plan where cost of healthcare insurance could be reduced significantly and lower income people would be able to afford policies that don’t have financially crippling deductibles. Anyone interested in seeing a better choice can look at my website VermontGetsStern.org. Our Washington delegation is advised to look as well. To weather any storm it is better to take bold, innovative action.

    • Neil Johnson

      Looked on your website, far better ideas than anything suggested by any candidates and office holders. It’s refreshing. I do believe the savings you are talking about are easy to reach, we can easily do much, much better.

      Having said that you are one of the few that are at least looking in a productive direction. Nice information and ideas. Best of luck to you.

      • Thank you Neil. My ideas come from basic common sense and looking at ideas used in other areas. I appreciate the kind words. Please share my website with friends and family. Keith

  • Gary Murdock

    “Scott, a Republican, said the bill would create an unmanageable deficit in the state budget if passed,”
    This statement illustrates the reason I voted for Bruce Lisman. Peter Shumlin and the democrat majority are responsible for this mess. They are the ones that embraced obamacare as a source for the federal dollars required to fund their progressive policy. Historically speaking, the problem started yesterday, but Vermont and the entire country is in a tizzy, acting like obamacare and the expansion of the welfare program known as Medicaid is enshrined in the constitution. I do not vote for republicans with the goal of continuing our status as a federal welfare state, where the few are abused and drained to pay for the many regardless of need. It’s irresponsible to continue fighting for the federal government to fund over half of our state budget. I look forward to the day the feds throttle back on the money spigot Vermont relies on…only then will our republicans be forced to become republicans…fiscally responsible and grounded in reality.

  • Mary Alice Bisbee

    Health care is a right, not a privilege. Thank you to our delegation and to Vermont Republicans who also see through this tax break for the wealthy.

    • You can call it a right or a privilege but it is in fact a necessity and being such it is imperative to make it as affordable as possible. The problem is too many “fixes” actually hurt people by tying up money necessary to pay for healthcare. We don’t need redistribution of wealth but responsible resource management.

    • Jerry Kilcourse

      “Health care is a right, not a privilege.” Exactly! Apparently many of those in Congress think it only applies to them.

  • Edward Letourneau

    What alternatives have they proposed? None that I know of, and we all know that ACA is collapsing under the current structure.

  • Jerry Kilcourse

    McConnell/Trump now want to just repeal the ACA without a replacement as the “Better Care and Reconciliation Act” is apparently dead (as it should be)…if so, all this will do is move the U.S. from a dismal 42nd ranking in life expectancy now, according to the CIA Worldfact Book, to an even lower ranking. Welcome back to “junk policies,” no preexisting conditions protection, and “survival of the fittest” etc. etc. And this is how the richest country in the world treats its citizen? So much for Trump’s promise of a cheaper and better healthcare plan! At this rate we’ll match or exceed Russia’s 153rd place.
    Apparently all of the above is only a mechanism to give a tax break to the wealthy.

  • Kelly Cummings

    What’s being revealed here is the private sector cannot meet the needs of the American people when it comes to healthcare.

    Simply put, the goal of insurance and pharmaceutical companies is to enlarge the profits for them and their shareholders. That’s their bottom line.

    For the rest of us, it’s staying healthy and alive.

    The two are at odds; like oil and water. They don’t mix. And they never will.

    It’s never been more clear….it’s time we evolve as a country to provide proper healthcare for our people.

  • Homer sulham

    It seems to me that instead of finding fault with the healthcare bill, why don’t the mature and educated people in Congress ( at least I assume) who all seem to know what is wrong with it work together to fix it, I’m surprised that Congress has a rating above 1.

    • Gary Murdock

      Because one side doesn’t think anything is wrong with obamacare. The democrats have used obabacare as a path to single payer via Medicaid, they wont give an inch…just ask Chuck Schumer. I think the republicans should just drop the issue and let obamacare implode, it’s almost there now, they wont have long to wait.

  • Elise Eaton

    Neil Johnson, you’re spot-on. Just look to the University of Vermont Medical Center’s profits and the huge salaries its higher-ups earn. Maybe that is where Vermont needs to start revamping its gravy train. I think the health care discussion lacks serious focus on the individual’s responsibility to makes informed, healthier choices. Stop subsidizing repeatedly risky behaviors through my insurance premiums. Obamacare is well on its way to imploding. Neil Johnson, you’re spot on.

  • Nate Wendt

    Well, for one, they tax you for it with a single payer system. What we have it s required capitalist market. Meaning, they set the price, and we are required to choose which one to buy. The Affordable Care Act (Which the nation has inappropriately called Obamacare as a manipulative social tactic) is not ideal, since it is a forced market, but it does give a lot of individuals opportunity to get health care when companies could otherwise have rejected them. We have a long way to go, but removing it is harmful to many people who need health care and otherwise wouldn’t have it.

  • Neil Johnson

    It may be cheaper than our incestuous set up, but it’s certainly not cheaper nor more effective than an actual market based system, of which we have not seen in our life times. Monopolies never serve the people only those in control, monopolies are basically kingdoms, upon which the rest are serfs. I thought as a nation we were past that year and years ago.

    • John Odum

      The whole problem is that what you say is going to be true only for young, healthy, low-risk consumers. High-risk, seniors, people with pre-existing conditions – these folks will be priced out of the market. If you even want to pretend that non-young, non-healthy people can have any chance of access at all, you either have to regulate the crap out of the market, pump a ton of taxpayer money into the system to subsidize it for everyone else, or some combination. Don’t turn economics into some sort of faith-based spirituality. It has clear rules and behaviors, and those clear rules and behaviors are simply not compatible with a health care system that provides coverage for everyone. To insist against all reason that it will if we just let it is obviously, demonstrably, logically false.

  • Walter responsible resource management is using taxpayer dollars responsibly which means not having paid administrative leave to the tune of $3M or $2M spent on deputy commissioners or $30M on a healthcare exchange which sets up lower income people with policies that are entirely inadequate. Those are just 3 examples without even having to research.

  • Dan DeCoteau

    And the republicans were right! It’s another failed government program dying. Healthcare insurance should be affordable for all not just the needy who get it with no cost or for those who do not want to change their lifestyle and have others take care of them financially and medically. The government can screw up a one car funeral during the planning stage and then follow through and forget the details like filling the gas tank before the funeral starts. The veteran’s administration is the perfect example of politics, corruption, the protection of failed policies and employees allowed to remain when they should have been fired. How many veteran’s have died over this mismanaged government healthcare system responsible for 24 million veterans. How much money wasted and stolen, it’s too big to manage properly. And you want this system for all of the 320 or more million Americans?