- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

JOHNSON, Vt. (AP) — Three Republicans and one Libertarian vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination on faced each other in a primary-eve debate Monday with the main fireworks coming over health policy.

All four voiced disagreement with incumbent Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin’s push for a universal, publicly funded health care system, though GOP businessman Scott Milne was more muted in his criticism than the others.

The debate, during a class led by Johnson State College Professor William Doyle - a state senator and political historian - included strong criticism of the universal health plan from Republican Steve Berry of Wolcott and from Dan Feliciano, a Libertarian who is seeking enough write-in votes in Tuesday’s primary to garner the Republican nomination.

Both Berry and Feliciano called for more competition in the marketplace for health insurance and the services it covers.

To one student’s question on why the same medical procedure, an MRI, cost $3,200 at a major hospital and $700 at a stand-alone clinic, Berry, Feliciano and Emily Peyton pointed to a lack of real competition and good consumer information in the medical marketplace.

“It’s competition that lacks here,” Berry said. “If there was competition that would not happen.”

Peyton, a Putney resident who has run unsuccessfully as an independent in several previous elections, said, “We’re not having any advocates who are shopping and price-comparing and advocating for the price reductions.”

While Peyton is running as a Republican this year, she has staked out positions to the left of the party’s mainstream, advocating for community clinics scattered around the state and for the state to pay the tuitions of students preparing for a health care career.

Milne called costs a complicated issue.

“The hospital has a lot of overhead,” he said. “It’s providing emergency services to people that aren’t paying their bills. You have a company with an MRI machine that comes in and cherry-picks customers and undercuts the market.”

Feliciano said his main concern was that a stand-alone clinic offering MRIs or other services communicates well with patients’ primary doctors so that care is well-coordinated.

All the candidates called for big changes in education, with Peyton advocating more support for home schooling, and the others supporting expanded school choice.

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