GOP expected to try to slow health changes

November 11, 2014

Burlington Free Press

MONTPELIER – Health care was already going to be a big issue in the upcoming Vermont legislative session, with the Shumlin administration overdue to present its financing plan for universal coverage.

But now some older battles may be fought anew, as Republicans prepare to question the path the state is on and advocates for what is often called single-payer health care prepare to defend it.

House Minority Leader Don Turner said Tuesday that House Republicans, still in the minority but bolstered by picking up nine seats in last week’s election, were in the early stages of drafting legislation that could undo key parts of a 2011 law that called for a state-run health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act.

One target could be the mandate that businesses with 100 workers or fewer who offer employee health coverage get it through the exchange.

“I don’t like the mandate,” Turner said, though he and his GOP colleges “haven’t had the conversations yet” about how to scrap it.

Another likely target for Republicans is Vermont’s state-based exchange. Instead, they might push for Vermont to join other states that are relying on the federal government to run their health care marketplaces, Turner said.

He estimated the exchange would cost the state up to $36 million a year to operate — money he says would be better spent subsidizing consumers’ health insurance premiums and copays.

“Let’s use that money to actually help people, instead of this other state boondoggle that’s going on,” he said.

Peter Sterling, executive director of the pro-single-payer group Vermont Leads, took issue with Turner’s comments.

He said Turner’s estimate was double the real projected cost to the state of running Vermont Health Connect. He said that without the state administering the program, there would be no way to get the subsidies to consumers who should get them.

“There is no benefit to any Vermont consumer from the proposals laid out by the Republicans,” Sterling said.

Two other single-payer advocacy groups, Vermont Health Care for All and the Vermont Workers Center’s Health Care is a Human Right campaign, have been issuing statements in recent days seeking to shore up support in the wake of Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin’s narrow victory last week.

Dr. Deb Richter of Vermont Health Care for All urged the group’s supporters by email Tuesday to contact their elected officials.

“You can send them a note, give them a call, or find them at a public event. Congratulate them on their election and let them know you want them to move the financing package for Single Payer forward in January,” she wrote.