GOP takes stand against single-payer plan

February 03, 2014

MONTPELIER — The Republican State Committee approved resolutions Saturday formally opposing Gov. Peter Shumlin’s single-payer health care plan, and putting more pressure on Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, the party’s only statewide candidate, to declare his own position.

One resolution approved Saturday at the Montpelier Elks Club urges “legislative and statewide candidates to publicly oppose single-payer/government run health care due to the negative impacts on the state’s economy and the lives of Vermonters.”

Shumlin, a Democrat, hopes to implement a universal, publicly financed health care system in Vermont in 2017. The governor said he will present a financing plan to lawmakers next January followed by a benefits package offered to Vermonters under the system.

Republicans, who are vastly outnumbered in the Legislature, have little power to slow the Democrat-led march toward Green Mountain Care. But Darcie Johnston, head of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, said the resolutions approved Saturday provide a clear position for voters and should give the party a boost on Election Day.

“I think it’s the ticket to raising money. I think it’s the ticket to recruiting candidates to run,” she said.

Scott is in an awkward position, however. Now in his second term, Scott, who serves as a member of Shumlin’s cabinet, has not publicly opposed Shumlin’s plan. Rather, he has professed to be skeptical of it.

Scott said the resolution “sounds like a bit of a litmus test” by those upset with his position.

“There’s a particular few frustrated with my not coming out and saying that single payer is the worst thing since Genghis Khan,” Scott said.

Windham County Democratic Sen. Peter Galbraith has introduced legislation to finance Shumlin’s plan through a payroll tax. After reviewing that bill, Scott said he took a more forceful stand.

“If that’s what single payer is, and that’s how we’re going to fund it, then I don’t believe it will work for Vermont because I don’t know how we can be competitive with other markets, with other states,” he said.

But for staunch single payer opponents like Johnston, Scott’s position is still too passive and not good enough. “Voters need to know,” she said.

“I think it’s time for the lieutenant governor to be very clear with Vermonters on what his position is. We’ve been in this debate for three years now. There is plenty of data out there to take a position. It is not going to change. Being a skeptic is not leadership,” she said.

There could be repercussion for Scott and the party should he not take a stronger position against single-payer health care, according to Johnston.

“I don’t know what the consequences may or may not be. I would expect his fundraising would be more difficult. He could have a primary challenge. He won’t be helpful to other candidates on the stump,” she said.

But Scott is unlikely to take a stronger position — for now. He said on his travels around the state Vermonters have expressed mixed feelings on Shumlin’s plan.

“There are many that want health care and they want to be able to afford it. I think that’s what everyone wants. There are many that feel that single payer won’t work and there are many that feel that single payer is the only thing that will work,” he said.

The voice vote taken on the resolution was not unanimous, and at least one party leader raised concerns that the resolution seemed to target Scott. Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning of Caledonia County called it “sort of a curve shot at our own lieutenant governor.”

“I am reminded ... of our lieutenant governor’s position. He has repeatedly been asked to take a stand on this question. He repeatedly has said, ‘I can’t because I don’t know what the plan is,’” Benning said.

The resolution is akin to a litmus test, Benning said.

“I’m a little concerned that we’re trying to present a litmus test on an issue that still hasn’t been identified,” Benning said. “As long as there is no plan I don’t think we as a party should be sending a signal that implies our lieutenant governor needs to get off the pot.”

State GOP Chairman David Sunderland said the resolution is aimed at the frustration behind the “cloud of mystery” regarding Shumlin’s plan. It is not directed at Scott, he said.

“The Vermont Republican Party is certainly very pleased and very proud of our lieutenant governor and we’re very thankful to have a voice in statewide elected office in Montpelier,” he said. “I think the lieutenant governor is asking the same questions that Vermonters are asking right now. I think he’s correct in asking how much it’s going to cost, who is going to pay, why does it have to hide behind this cloud of mystery.”

Still, Scott, who did not attend the Saturday meeting, said he wants more information about the origin of the resolution.

“I am surprised that a resolution such as that would be put forth without any notice to people like myself. I look forward to getting to the bottom of it to find out how and why. I think that’s disappointing,” he said.

A second resolution adopted Saturday lists reforms the party does embrace, including a voluntary online exchange open to additional insurers. The resolution calls for the exchange to “protect the confidentiality of patient records,” allow for the purchase of insurance across state lines and provide a variety of plans, including catastrophic coverage with high deductibles.

Other items approved by the committee include:

Medical malpractice reform to reduce the cost of defensive medicine;

Changes to community rating to the maximum allowed under federal law;

Ensure access to specialized care and patient choice in health care options;

Preserve “the rights of doctors to be in private practice”;

Maintain adequate reimbursement to providers; and

Ensure that reforms do not create economic hardship for Vermont citizens, employers or the state’s economy.

Johnston said the resolutions will lay out the Vermont Republican Party’s positions and what its candidates stand for.

“We’ve said what we stand for, but we need to decide where the line in the sand is. I think our voters need to understand that very clearly,” she said.

Sunderland said Republicans will present an alternative health care plan for Vermonters to consider in November.

“We will have a positive, forward looking solution for Vermont’s health care challenge that I am confident will address our need and desire for universal health care, but won’t remove the patient from the decision-making process, which as I understand it, the governor’s single-payer scheme will.”