BERLIN — As Gov. Peter Shumlin proceeds with a ground-up overhaul that seeks unprecedented reforms to the health care system, Republican challenger Randy Brock on Wednesday called for a more delicate approach that he says would contain rising costs while keeping the current medical framework intact.
At a news conference held at a busy intersection adjacent to the Central Vermont Medical Center, Brock distributed a list of “25 ways to bend the Vermont health care cost curve.”
Across the country, Brock said, the “best minds” are working on ways to reduce health care costs, yielding “numerous evidence-based solutions, some of which we could begin using today.”
While Shumlin continues to press for a single-payer system that relies on a yet-unidentified public-financing mechanism to support universal care, Brock said Vermont is better served tackling the “discrete” cost drivers responsible for rising insurance premiums without undoing a system that delivers quality care.
“These are things we can test, pilot, evaluate, measure and above all things we can reverse if they don’t do what we want them to do,” Brock said.
Among his ideas:
n Allow private insurers to provide discounts for healthy lifestyles.
n Require hospitals and other providers to post prices so patients can shop around.
n Make health insurance tax deductible.
n Encourage doctors to stop performing the tests and procedures that major medical organizations have found are frequently unnecessary.
Brock said things like “price transparency” could drive down costs in short order by forcing hospitals to compete with each other for patients’ business. Expanded efforts to root out Medicaid fraud, he said, would have a deterrent effect that would improve efficiency system wide. And reforms to medical malpractice laws, he said, would allow doctors to stop performing the kind of defensive medicine that he said results in unnecessary tests.
Brock said no single reform outlined in his two-page handout Wednesday would in itself solve the cost dilemma. Taken as a whole, however, he said they would begin to provide relief to policyholders.
Shumlin’s campaign manager Alex MacLean called the Republican challenger’s proposal “more of the same from Randy Brock.”
“This is not a plan to reduce costs, but to increase the profits of insurance companies,” MacLean said. “It will only bring us back to a time when insurance companies reaped massive profits at the expense of elderly and sick Vermonters.”
Brock said Shumlin hasn’t shared with Vermonters the critical pieces of information they need to make an informed decision about the merits of the single-payer proposal.
Shumlin has yet to unveil the estimated cost of the single-payer system, or the tax he’d use to pay for it. He said last week that those proposals may not arrive until 2015.
“I’m seeing a lot of talk,” Brock said. “I’m not seeing a lot of substantive action. How do you know you’re going to save money when you don’t know what you’re going to spend?”
Brock said his plan would allow Vermont to retreat without permanent harm from any reforms that turn sour. Shumlin’s push for single-payer, he said, could inflict irreversible damage on the health care system.
“We’re driving 100 miles per hour through a fog, not knowing precisely where we’re going and blowing up every bridge behind us,” Brock said.
Brock said one of his most immediate actions on health care as governor would be to undo a mandate passed earlier this year that will force small businesses in Vermont to purchase their insurance from the “Health Benefits Exchange.”
Shumlin has said that requiring businesses to participate in the federally mandated exchange will maximize federal health care subsidies, and establish the platform from which Vermont will one day transition to single-payer.
Brock said the mandate will narrow consumer choice, and unnecessarily increase costs for businesses that might find cheaper plans outside the exchange.
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