Health care dominates gubernatorial debate

September 14, 2014

Times Argus

By Amy Ash Nixon

Health care dominates gubernatorial debate : Times Argus Online
TUNBRIDGE — Gov. Peter Shumlin, hoping to persuade voters to re-elect him so he can implement the nation’s first single-payer health care system, was pressed at the first 2014 gubernatorial debate Saturday to share details of the plan before the election.

The Democratic governor said he would if he could, but the plan will not be ready until January.

Mark Johnson of radio station WDEV moderated the debate at the Tunbridge State Fair between Shumlin, Republican Scott Milne, Libertarian Dan Feliciano and independent Emily Peyton.

Dozens of people sat on benches for the chilly outdoor debate, and others visiting the fair’s exhibit halls stopped for a spell to listen. Many were advertising their candidates of choice with pins or stickers.

Questions were taken from the audience, who wrote them down and had them handed to Johnson.

After Shumlin took a few shots from Feliciano and Milne over the controversial single-payer plan, Johnson pressed him on why voters could not learn more about the plans — chiefly its economics and how it would work — before casting their votes in November.

“You say you need to wait until January,” Johnson said. “Why?”

Shumlin replied, “My plan is going to be based on ability to pay. ... If we’ve learned anything from the Affordable Care Act, it’s this: Don’t go out with a plan until it’s ready.”

The effort is complex “and you have to get it right, because health care has a huge impact on the economy,” he said. “We will have it ready for the Legislature in January.”

The governor vowed it would create jobs, contribute to economic opportunity for the state and “improve the quality of life” for Vermonters.

The moderator said property taxes and health care costs were among the big campaign issues this season. He asked Shumlin, “Can you really say that a majority of Vermonters are better off today than they were four years ago?”

“I am proud of the progress we’ve made with jobs and the economy,” the governor responded.

Shumlin said Vermont “enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and the state is seeing the fastest growth rate in the nation from the second quarter of the year for income.”

Johnson asked Feliciano why voters should go with “someone who is a virtual unknown.”

Feliciano said his private-business background has seen him improve the effectiveness and efficiencies of major cities and for the federal government, and he has a record of having “improved outcomes and services and reduced costs.”

He said Vermont government needs this kind of oversight, which he can offer.

Cutting spending, cutting property taxes and figuring out how to give Vermonters school choice are among Feliciano’s plans if elected governor. He made clear he does not support a single-payer health care system, and that the private marketplace can do its job.

He said Shumlin has been promising jobs that have not come, and health care that hasn’t yet arrived.

Peyton took a different tack, saying, “Our biggest problem today isn’t health care and it isn’t education, it’s the 1 percent taking the wealth of the working class and taking it out of state.”

“We need to create economic conditions that lateralize our economic growth,” Peyton said.

She said she was not originally included in the debate and had to ask. She said women are still not included in the political process to the point they should be.

Milne was challenged for his ideas on controlling property taxes, and whether he had a better health care plan than Shumlin.

“I think the number one issue in this campaign is the out-of-control rise in property taxes,” Milne said, adding that he’s been hearing the complaint from a lot of Vermonters.

Milne said he believes in as much local control as possible and that Vermonters are tired of a governor who “flies around the country and comes up with a new idea” which he brings to the Legislature to pass onto the people.

He said he would support a two-year cap on property taxes.

On health care reform, Milne said it is “a complicated issue.” He called Shumlin “the most progressive, radical governor in the country ... pushing forward with his health care proposal and some of the other things he’s doing.”

Milne characterized the plan being pushed by the Shumlin administration as “ill-conceived.” He also criticized the governor for backtracking in a Vermont Public Radio interview in which he said he would abandon single-payer if it did not benefit Vermont’s economy.

When it was Feliciano’s turn to address health care, he said, “I’ve come out against the single-payer health care system from the get-go. ... There are free-market solutions that can drive the system and provide Vermonters with a choice.”

Shumlin characterized Feliciano’s ideas on health care as “taking us back to the days when insurance companies could say to the old and the sick, ‘We’re going to charge you a higher rate.’”

Peyton said on health care: “I do believe that a society needs to take care of its sick, and I don’t think we should skimp on that, but we need to look very carefully at what we are paying for.”

Peyton said the present system is not competitive. “We should be rewarding those who are doing best practice with health care,” she said. “We need to take the medical business to task where they are soaking people.”

Milne, the Republican, said it was time for a change.

He called for a simplified education funding formula “that makes sense,” and said the rate of state spending is outpacing the rate of inflation threefold. “That’s got to end,” he said.

“We’ve missed four years of getting our economy on track,” said Milne.

The Democratic governor criticized Milne for lacking ideas. “At least Dan (Feliciano) has ideas,” Shumlin said. “... They may be out of the mainstream of many Vermonters, but at least he has ideas.”