MONTPELIER — Lawmakers are considering a scaled-back health care bill that strips out a proposed payroll tax.
The House and Ways Committee is looking to fund a proposed health care bill with $20 million in revenue, a far cry from the $52 million in revenue proposed by the House Health Care Committee.
“I think it’s safe to say that the figure we come up with will be less than the figure the Health Care Committee came up with,” said Ways and Means Chairwoman Janet Ancel, D-Calais. “If that’s true, we’re going to ask the Health Care Committee to reorder its priorities to decide how best to spend it.”
Earlier this month, the House Health Care Committee approved a bill that included a 0.3-percent payroll tax, as well as a 2-cents-an-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which, together, would generate $52 million in revenue.
The bill itself was borne out of a proposal from Gov. Peter Shumlin, who proposed implementing a 0.7-percent payroll tax to close the gap between how much Medicaid reimburses doctors for services and how much those doctors charge private insurers. Shumlin argues that boosting the amount paid by Medicaid will result in lower premiums for individuals with private insurance.
Shumlin’s proposal came after his decision in December to — either permanently or for the moment — shelve his single-payer health care plan.
“We’ve been looking at the bill that the House Health Care Committee voted out, both looking at the spending part and looking at how the revenue will be raised, and I think there is, just speaking for myself, there are initiatives in the bill that I would like to be able to accomplish,” Ancel said. “Certainly, the investment in the cost sharing, the increased reimbursement for primary care, are things that the heath care bill attempts to put in place. The challenge, always, is how do we raise revenue for it?”
Wednesday afternoon, House Health Care Committee members discussed proposals that would reduce the amount of money to address the so-called “Medicaid shift” that would close the reimbursement rate gap between Medicaid and private insurers.
Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, proposed amending the bill from House Health Care that would do away with the payroll tax altogether, and would impose a 0.75-cents-an-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. Till also proposed eliminating the exemption for candy from sales tax.
Rep. James Masland, D-Thetford Center, said that reducing the sugar-sweetened beverage tax to 0.5 cents an ounce could still raise $20 million.
Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, said the direction the committee will take on the bill is still very much up in the air.
“There are three questions before this committee: Do we want to spend money on health care? How much do we want to spend? And, if we want to spend money, how do we want to raise it?” said Clarkson, who later said she supported the $20 million figure.
Ancel said that, should her committee decide to reduce the amount of revenue as proposed, it would be up to the House Health Care Committee to decide how that money should be spent.
The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to take up the health care bill Thursday.