BERLIN, Vt. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock says his ideas to help curb the rising cost of health care include making medical malpractice reforms and rewarding healthy behaviors with lower insurance rates.
Brock held a news conference Wednesday outside the Central Vermont Medical Center, where he outlined a 25-point plan for cutting health care costs and criticized the administration of Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin for its move toward a government-backed, single-payer health care system.
A 2011 law passed with Shumlin's strong support calls for Vermont first to set up a health insurance marketplace, known as an exchange, in keeping with the 2010 federal health care overhaul. Vermont's plan then is to go beyond other states and the federal government, using the exchange as a springboard to create something much closer to Canada's single-payer health care system.
Brock criticized Shumlin and his aides for being slow to announce what benefits their envisioned health care system will cover, what it will cost and how the money will be raised. Brock likened the current approach to "driving 100 miles per hour through the fog, not really knowing where we're going and blowing up each bridge behind us."
The former state auditor said he would "conduct a performance audit of every mandate" that's been imposed on health insurance companies over the years to see whether they were worth the cost.
Among those mandates, he recently has said he would scale back sharply on community rating, a requirement under state law that health insurance companies charge the same rates for the same coverage, regardless of the consumer's age, sex or other demographics.
Shumlin, serving his first term as governor, has criticized Brock over the issue, saying curtailing community rating could bring a tripling of insurance premiums for older and less healthy people.
Brock said he would favor financial incentives, including lower insurance rates, for people who practice healthy habits, such as eating well, exercising and not smoking. But he said he would not support measures such as a tax on unhealthy foods to discourage people from consuming too many of them.
Brock cited reduced smoking as an example of public health education campaigns working to reduce tobacco use sharply since the U.S. surgeon general first warned against smoking in 1964. He acknowledged that one tactic used to discourage smoking has been sharply increasing taxes on tobacco but added, "I've always been very reluctant to use the tax code to force people to behave the way I want them to."
Regarding malpractice reform, Brock said he would require arbitration between plaintiffs and doctors when lawsuits arise and would cap non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, as opposed to lost wages or other direct costs.
Brock's 25-point list of methods by which he would seek to lower health care costs included items such as:
— Disclose post-treatment prices. "Patients should know what treatment costs," he said.
— Reduce emergency room visits "by creating extended-day walk-in clinics within one hour of every Vermonter."
— Encourage more commercial insurers to do business in Vermont, creating more competition.
— Make individual health insurance premiums deductible from the state income tax.
— Encourage use of health savings accounts, tax-advantaged accounts designed to pay for medical expenses, used by people with insurance plans with high deductibles.
— Establish insurance company performance standards, including speed of claims processing, and publicly post results.
— Reduce unnecessary medical tests.