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Vermont lawmakers commissioning study of the state's health care costs

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MONTPELIER, Vermont — State lawmakers said Wednesday they will seek independent analysis to gather their own information about health care costs as Vermont makes its way toward a publicly financed universal health care system.

The legislature's Health Reform Oversight Committee began planning an analysis that will examine who pays for health care in the state today, both directly and indirectly. The report will form a baseline for understanding how to best enact health care policy in the state.

"This is really for the purpose of the legislature to have their own independent, impartial analyses to support those policy decisions that are going to have to be made by legislature," committee member Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Danville said.

Vermont resident health care spending reached $5.1 billion in in 2012, according to the 2012 Vermont Health Care Expenditure Analysis. But lawmakers want more detail about how exactly that amount breaks down, taking into account taxes and other factors.

Health care reform is a major goal for Vermont and Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The launch of a universal system is planned for 2017. It would be function like a modified Medicare-for-all, where the government, instead of private insurers, pays for health care costs.

Sen. Tim Ashe, the committee co-chair, said that it is standard for the legislature to carry out its own analysis.

"This is really no different than any other policy area that the state and the legislature consider," the Burlington Democrat and Progressive said. "The administration has an economist, they run numbers to determine how much this policy or that policy might cost. We have our Joint Fiscal Office. They do the same exercise."

Discrepancies between figures from the legislature and the administration can sometimes be negotiated but that's not always possible, said Ashe.

"Let's say a particular health care proposal from the administration has greatly divergent estimates and we think it's going to be much more costly on the legislative side, versus what the administration presents," Ashe said. "That might be cause for great concern."

Decisions about the contractor carrying out the analysis will be made within the next two weeks to stay on track for a report due date of November 2014.

"There's every incentive to get this done as soon as possible," Chief Legislative Fiscal Officer Stephen Klein said.

The Legislature appropriated $800,000 for health care reform contracts, like this one, over coming years, according to the Legislative Joint Fiscal Office.

The committee hopes to meet again in August.

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