Vermont’s Single Payer Washout

The Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2014

Last week, in a reversal that deserves more attention, Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin announced that Vermont would no longer create America’s first statewide single-payer health system.

Single payer is the polite term for socialized medicine and the ultimate goal of the political left.

At least the Governor deserves credit for admitting failure. His ideological comrades are rarely dissuaded by the prospect of economic damage, as ObamaCare proves. But Mr. Shumlin has succeeded in making Vermont a national model: By admitting that single payer will make health care both more expensive and less efficient, he has shown other states what not to do.


H.202, Bill as Passed by the House and Senate, 2011

“An act relating to a single-payer and unified health system”

changed to

“An act relating to a universal and unified health system”

(H.202 is a 213 page bill. The first 135 pages were deleted and the remaining pages are a rewrite of the entire bill.)


The director, in collaboration with the agency of human services, shall obtain waivers, exemptions, agreements, legislation, or a combination thereof to ensure that, to the extent possible under federal law, all federal payments provided within the state for health services are paid directly to Green Mountain Care. Green Mountain Care shall assume responsibility for the benefits and services previously paid for by the federal programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, and, after implementation, the Vermont health benefit exchange.

As was fully expected, the conservative and libertarian pundits are inundating the Internet and other media vehicles with celebratory commentaries on the theme that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin’s withdrawal of his single payer proposal is proof that single payer is more expensive and less efficient than other health care financing systems. The Wall Street Journal editorial excerpt above is selected as a leading example of these right-wing responses. The problem with these comments is that H.202, the Vermont reform legislation, IS NOT A SINGLE PAYER PROPOSAL.

Even many single payer supporters have it wrong. They claim that Gov. Shumlin gave up for political reasons, and, if he had persevered, he would have been successful in establishing the first state-level single payer system in the U.S. Again, the problem is that H.202, the Vermont reform legislation, IS NOT A SINGLE PAYER PROPOSAL.

Posted above is a link to H.202. During the legislative process, the bill was renamed, deleting “single-payer” from its title. If you check the document at the link, you will see that the original bill was red-lined out, and the bill was entirely rewritten. All references to “single-payer” were removed.

The crucial phrase in the except above regarding waivers and agreements is “to the extent possible under federal law.” It was known at the time the revisions were being made that Sec 1332 ACA waivers, Sec 1115 Medicaid waivers, the narrowly defined Medicare demonstration waivers, and the ERISA limitations on employer-sponsored plans were so limited that it would be impossible to establish a bona fide single payer system through unilateral state action alone, nor through a cooperative effort with the Obama administration. Comprehensive federal legislation would have been required, and that clearly was not forthcoming from this or the next Congress. Legislating a wish list does not equate with clearing all of the hurdles that only Congress can effectuate.

The reason that this message is being reemphasized again today is that there has not been a loud enough voice in unison emphatically rejecting the claim that Vermont’s experience is proof that single payer cannot work. Single payer never had a chance, considering the inertia in Congress. This was not a single payer failure. Do not remain silent when that claim is made. Single payer has been proven to work well in many other nations.