By Pat Bradley
WAMC Northeast Public Radio, Dec. 23, 2014
Last week Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin told Vermonters he would stop his efforts to implement single-payer health care in the state. The decision has upset supporters, but they say it won’t stop efforts at the state or national level to implement single-payer.
A long anticipated and delayed health care reform financing report was due to be issued at the end of this month spelling out the costs of Vermont’s transition to a single-payer health care system. The report, obtained in advance by VTDigger.org, showed that businesses would face a payroll tax of 11.5f percent and individuals would be charged up to 9.5 percent on their state income tax to pay for the system.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin stunned Vermonters last week when he retreated from implementation of single-payer, explaining that converting to such a system isn’t affordable. “Pushing for single-payer health care financing when the time isn’t right and it would likely hurt our economy is not good for Vermont and it would not be good for health care reform.”
Shumlin said he asked his team to find alternatives, but none met service criteria or they were unaffordable. “This is the greatest disappointment of my political life so far. That we couldn’t advance this ball as quickly as we’d wished.”
Vermonters for Health Care Freedom has advocated for the state to switch from the state run to the federal healthcare exchange and to back off from its single-payer plans. Founder and President Darcie Johnston embraces the governor’s decision. “We knew that the financing wasn’t going to work. If you look at the state’s economy, the state is really struggling from an economic point of view and we can see that a $2.6 billion new tax is not going to help jump-start the economy anytime soon.”
Shumlin gained his office, in part, due to his advocacy for universal health care. Many advocates of the system feel betrayed. The Vermont Workers Center, which coordinates the Health Care is a Human Right campaign, organized a rally the day after the governor’s announcement.
Executive Director James Haslam believes Shumlin’s decision was political, not economic. “This is a guy who’s been championing moving forward with universal health care ever since he started running for governor. He’s been trying to use it as a way to advance his political career and a lot of people voted for him for this. So it’s definitely something that has not gone over well. But the way that he was pushing for health care was really essentially, primarily so it’s pro-business. That’s for us not the goal of a health care system.”
Vermont’s efforts to become the first state with a single-payer health care system are being scrutinized nationally. In the wake of Governor Shumlin’s announcement Physicians for a National Health Program President Dr. Andrew Coates – who practices in the Albany, NY region – and has contributed commentaries on WAMC – disagreed with his decision. “Single-payer has enormous efficiencies by cutting out profiteering, cutting out layers and layers of middlemen. Cutting out many duplicative efforts to count the money. And without a proposal to cut out all those middlemen, which Governor Shumlin didn’t have, and then to turn around and say that single-payer isn’t feasible in Vermont was disingenuous.”
Coates adds that while this is similar to setbacks in other states, the movement toward single-payer hasn’t stopped. “We could think about the California Democratic party while they had Governor Schwarzenegger in the statehouse. They passed single-payer and he vetoed it. Then when they got Governor Brown in the Statehouse they decided that they wouldn’t table the bill. People were very upset. I don’t think it stopped the movement in California. I think it just means a little bit of a reality check about what we’re really up against.”
Supporters of single-payer are planning a rally the Vermont statehouse in January as the new legislative session begins.