Governor continues to press lawmakers for health plan

By WILSON RING Markets Associated Press

A portion of the savings to Vermont property taxpayers promised by Gov. Phil Scott's teacher health insurance proposal relies on changing the way teachers and their families use health care, administration officials said Monday.

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In a briefing for reporters, Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom said the savings would come from school districts paying 80 percent of health insurance costs and teachers paying 20 percent, reduced drug costs by switching to generics and teachers and their families using fewer health care services.

These changes will result in the Vermont Education Health Initiative, which offers benefits to the state's teachers, "writing checks to the tune of $26 million less," Samsom said.

Even though the governor's proposal was defeated in the Legislature last week, Scott administration officials remain hopeful it still can become law by being attached to another piece of legislation in the waning days of the Legislature. Lawmakers, who had hoped to adjourn for the year Saturday, will now return to Montpelier on Wednesday. It's unclear how long it will take to adjourn.

The Scott administration says the governor's health care proposal would save money and reduce property taxes by taking advantage of new health care plans. Statewide, the proposal would save $75.5 million. Of that total, $48.8 million would be used to lessen the effect of the additional costs on teachers.

Total out-of-pocket costs wouldn't go up for teachers, who would take on higher deductibles in exchange for lower premium contributions. Samsom said those higher deductibles would encourage teachers and their families to use fewer health care services.

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Martha Allen, president of the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said any savings is dependent on bargaining, which should be done by teachers and their local school districts.

"If the governor is sincere about wanting to collectively bargain with educators, or Vermont NEA representing educators, then he can't know what the outcome of the bargaining would be," she said "So if he thinks that bargaining is going to end up with his best-case scenario, for it to capture $26 million, then he is not sincere."

Allen disagrees with encouraging teachers and their families to use fewer medical services.

"If people have higher deductibles, out-of-pocket costs, they tend to avoid going to the doctor," Allen said. When they eventually go, "they're sick, and they should have been there earlier," she said.

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This story has been corrected to show the last name of the tax commissioner is Samsom, not Samson.