Corren challenges Scott's skepticism of single payer

September 14, 2014

Burlington Free Press

Is it OK for a candidate to say he is skeptical about a policy direction, or is that a way to avoid making a commitment on an issue that some voters see as controversial?

That question underlay the first debate Friday between Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who is seeking a third term, and challenger Dean Corren, who is running as a Progressive and Democrat.

Corren has said he is in the race because he wants to help the Shumlin administration and Democratic Legislature complete the job of launching a government-financed, statewide health insurance system. He argues that the time for debating whether to go forward with this change has passed. The Legislature made the decision in 2011.

"It's time to get it done and not just be skeptical," Corren said during a 60-minute debate in a gazebo at the Tunbridge World's Fair and aired on WDEV's Mark Johnson Show. "It is decades too late to say we don't know what to do. Now it is a matter of working out the details. It isn't a matter of being skeptical forever."

Scott defended his view that there are still many questions that need to be answered before launching a government-financed health insurance system — especially regarding how Vermonters will cover the cost.

"I think being a skeptic is a good thing," Scott said, "to make sure we don't leap into something that isn't going to be good for Vermont."

Scott said he would prefer to focus on addressing the operational problems of the federally mandated health insurance exchange — an online marketplace — that launched 11 months ago. He sees Vermont Health Connect, the name of the exchange, as the basis for a future competitive health insurance marketplace. "We should be putting our effort into making that work," Scott said.

Debate moderator Johnson asked the candidates what would curb increases in health care costs.

Corren said implementing a single-payer system would yield administrative savings and enable statewide initiatives such as preventive care and chronic illness management that should affect costs.

Scott credited the Green Mountain Care Board, an already operating regulatory panel, with helping hospitals to constrain costs. Scott, an avid bicycle rider, also noted, "We all have responsibility ourselves."

Johnson also pressed the candidates about their political party affiliations. His question for Scott: Why is the Vermont Republican Party struggling so much?
Scott said Vermont Republicans are wrestling with the public perception that they have the same ideology as the national Republican Party. "Vermont Republicans are different from national Republicans," he said.

Johnson asked Corren to explain his decision to seek the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor rather than run as just a Progressive.

"I was a Democrat before I was a Progressive," Corren replied, adding that he has a long history of supporting Democratic candidates and collaborating with Democrats and Republicans on legislation when he served in the Vermont House. He also said "I feel very close" to issues that Democrats are pursuing — especially health care reform.

Johnson also asked Corren why the Progressive Party "hasn't taken off."
"I think it has," Corren countered. He said the party has increased the number of members serving in the Legislature. He argued, too, that "it is the only successful third party in the nation."

The candidates also sketched out their differing views on other issues, including:

Property tax reform.


• Scott: "We really have to look at the operating costs, and that even means closing some of the smaller schools." The process for deciding ought to be case-by-case, he said.
• Corren: "I don't think the proposal to consolidate schools is a good idea." He said a tax system based on income would be a fairer way to pay for schools. A single-payer health system would help, he added. "One of the reasons school costs are going up so much is health care."

Wind energy

• Corren: He commented about the beauty of the wind turbines visible when he kayaks on Arrowhead Mountain Lake in Milton, but acknowledged that wind energy developments weren't appropriate on every mountain. He said policymakers should have come up with a map identifying where wind projects would be appropriate.
• Scott: He spoke of biking in the Northeast Kingdom and being "taken aback by the size" of the wind turbines. He has favored a moratorium on development to allow the state to "step back and see if this makes sense. We need to get data and make sure this is right for Vermont." Scott noted that he strongly supports renewable energy and cited solar technology as offering promise.

Vermont Gas pipeline
• Scott: "This is a step in the right direction," he said of the plan to extend a pipeline through Addison County to Rutland. In light of recent revelations about higher costs, Scott said, "Having the Public Service Board take other look — that is fine."
• Corren: "Here is an area where I could be called a skeptic." He suggested that some important questions about the economics of the pipeline need to be answered.

Legalizing marijuana
• Scott: He would prefer to see how legalization works out in Colorado and Washington. "Let them lead."
• Corren: "It is inevitable. I'm supportive."

Farms and Lake Champlain
• Scott: "A heavy hand doesn't always get you what you want," Scott said, responding to a question about whether farms should be required to follow "best practices" to help reduce pollution in Lake Champlain. He said he recently learned about a silt-barrier system that might prove to be more cost-effective.
• Corren: "I think there could be a level of mandatory requirements." He would focus mandates "on those that aren't trying" to address runoff, but also suggested he would encourage collaborative remedies.

Contact Nancy Remsen at 578-5685 or nremsen@freepressmedia.com. Follow Nancy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nancybfp.