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Health Reform Critics Dismayed By House Committee Reassignment

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WAMC/Pat Bradley
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A House member critical of some of Vermont’s health care reform measures is expected to be removed from the House Health Care Committee.

Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith will announce committee assignments this week when legislators are sworn in for the new biennium. It’s expected that Bennington Republican Representative Mary Morrissey will not return to her position on the House Health Care Committee, where she has served for 4 years. That concerns Vermonters for Health Care Freedom President Darcie Johnston.  “We see how effective she has been at exposing the truth and making it transparent about what the shortfalls of Vermont Health Connect have been and asking the tough questions of the administration officials. And she’s been very concerned about what we’ve spent.  So we’re really concerned that you’re taking really and punishing the most effective member of the committee for doing what she was elected to do for the voters of Vermont.”

House Minority Leader Republican Don Turner says the House Speaker told him that Morrissey would be reassigned to another committee because he wanted to reorganize the health care committee.  “What it means from our caucus is the person that was leading the charge, asking all the tough questions and bringing our constituents’ interests to that committee will be removed. He will put more Republicans, I told him that I wanted four Republicans on that committee. He said he would put more Republicans on that committee but he wanted Mary on a different committee.  Which we adamantly oppose.  Mary’s experience, that she’s willing to stand her ground and fight for our constituents is very important. We cannot afford not to have Mary Morrissey  on that committee going forward.”

Vermont House Speaker Democrat Shap Smith is assigning members to the 15 standing committees, including health care.  “I have been doing this for four terms now and I’m not in the business of punishing people.  We need to build committees that don’t carry old baggage and that are going to work together well.  There are committees, not just the health care committee, but committess throughout the house that are having people move around. We had a large amount of turnover this past year and we’re trying to make sure that the committees reflect a group of people that can move vermotn forward.”

Turner, who says he has no say in committee assignments, is concerned about the potential of losing a strong advocate for the opposition on the committee.  “One of the things is that when you have new people on the committee they don’t have the historical knowledge of what’s happened over the last four years under the Shumlin administration and how they’ve wanted to reform health care in Vermont. So you take a new member and you bring issue upon issue in front of them with no historical knowledge, it really makes it difficult for them to get up to speed. I’m very concerned about that going forward.”

Vermont Health Care for All Chair Dr. Deb Richter finds the speculation over the committee assignments a tempest in a teapot and concerns by critics are unwarranted.  “This is something that happens every few years. They reshuffle who’s on what committee. In fact the Speaker didn’t even take someone from within the committee to chair the committee. He took Bill Lippert from a different committee. So I don’t thing there’s any real conspiracy here. This is something that goes on every few years or so.”

Vermont Public Interest Research Group Consumer Protection Advocate Falco Schilling has read about the issue in papers. He notes that while the governor has backed off of single-payer, there are still numerous reforms the committee needs to assess.  “There’s a lot of things that need to be looked at such as making sure consumers know how much their care is going to cost. Figuring out how we actually pay for care. And trying to take away some of the incentives in the system that are just driving up costs. So there’s a whole bunch of things that need to be looked at. And on top of that we need to make sure that Vermont Health Connect is running correctly to give Vermonters the care that they need.”

The Vermont Legislature convenes on Wednesday.

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