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Monday, December 10, 2007

Vermont leads way in public-private health insurance

The state of Vermont has embraced the problem of providing health care. Dubbed "Catamount Care", the solution seeks to include not just the currently uninsured but also the insurance companies that count on profits from the current system.

"The way things were going, the state was providing affordable coverage to more and more Vermonters", said Gaye Symington, spokeswoman for the Speaker of the House, a Democrat. "But that shouldn't be our job. Vermonters agree that it's worth paying a little more to put that business where it belongs."

"We don't believe in punishing companies for not finding it profitable enough to provide services to the less rich. Catamount Care will divert state funds from a variety of sources to pay those companies to sign up Vermont's working families", Symington continued.

Now Vermont's lone representative in the U.S. House, Democrat Peter Welch was leader of the Vermont Senate when Catamount Care was hammered out. He agrees with Symington. "Vermonters chose the Democrats to lead because we understood their demand for universal health care as a right, one enjoyed by the people of almost every other nation in the world, both industrialized and undeveloped. Our duty to them was responsibly balanced with our duty to the system already in place. It would have been simple to step in with an expanded state insurance program -- on the model of Medicare -- to provide what private insurers could not and at a much lower cost. But that's inherently unfair and wouldn't fix the problem of letting the market work."

"Vermonters deserve the chance to choose their own plan", said Welch from Washington. "We trust the people and although it isn't perfect, we are more than pleased with our compromise of paying insurance companies to target the working families of Vermmont."

As biannual elections loom next year in Vermont, the governor and legislators are already positioning themselves to build on the success of Catamount Care. Current Senate leader Peter Shumlin promised to examine other state and town expenditures and services for similar public-private partnerships.

"We could help a lot of businesses while also giving Vermonters more control over their own lives", Shumlin said in a cellphone interview while he was out hunting deer.

"This time next year, look for the opportunity to pay for your own police and fire protection, your own school enrollment, your own road repair and plowing. Why should the folks in Montpelier tell you where to spend your own money? These services are too important to let Montpelier be the only choice."

Shumlin continued: "The state is there to help a few deserving poor, not to provide what working families can, should, and want to buy for themselves to help the companies whose profits keep our economy vibrant. These are exciting times to be a Vermonter!"

"It will also lower taxes!" added Republican governor Jim Douglas in support of the legislators' plans. "We can be proud to say that your hard-earned income is going to be going to vital companies that make Vermont a great place to live and work and raise a family instead of bureaucrats in Montpelier and Waterbury."

Douglas's office admitted later that Catamount-style services will cost more, and that some people will not be as well served, but that freedom which you can't put a price on is worth it. "Those individuals who choose not to participate will be making it more expensive for everyone else, and we will have to look into how to appropriately deal with those elements who stand in the way of our love of liberty", his office said.

Symington added: "If we offer this package and people refuse to take advantage of it, then I don't know what more we can do. We will have to consider forcing them somehow to sign up with one of these companies."

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