Health reform advocates push for single-payer health care

December 02, 2014

WCAX

By Kyle Midura
MONTPELIER, Vt. -
Health reform advocates say November's election results should not stop the state from pursuing single-payer health care.

Groups like the state's teachers union and state employees association laid out their arguments at a news conference Tuesday morning.

The advocates argue November's election, which saw Republicans make gains in the Legislature and left the governor's race unsettled, was not a referendum on plans for a universal health care system.

Proponents and skeptics will have more substance for their arguments when new data arrives in January.

During his run against Gov. Peter Shumlin, Republican Scott Milne declared single-payer has no future in Vermont.

"Single-payer health care, the reckless experiment that we've been marching toward the last four years is dead," said Milne in an October debate.

Our WCAX poll in October found Vermonters split on whether to move forward. Immediately following the election, the governor said he received a message when he narrowly secured more votes than his challenger.

"Being governor is a tough job and it's really important that you listen that you be inclusive but we've also got to make decisions," said Shumlin in November.

But he would not say if that message included scrapping the state's planned transition to single-payer. He did say it won't happen if analysts determine doing so would hurt the state's economy.

"This election was not a call to abandon the move to Green Mountain Care," said Peter Sterling of Vermont LEADS.

Tuesday, representatives from 16 pro-reform organizations argued the planned transition's vital signs are strong. They say a relatively poor showing for Democrats who still own a substantial majority resulted from high property taxes and the rocky rollout not single-payer.

"We say to all Vermonters, join us, make our health care plan your health care plan," said Leslie Matthews of the Vermont State Employees Association

State employees argued their generous benefits package should be the standard for any future plan. Sterling, a single-payer lobbyist and health exchange navigator, says when the governor releases his plan, public support will follow.

"Once we can tell Vermonters this is how much it's going to cost, this is what you're going to get and yes, you can see your doctor, we'll see strong public support for the program," said Sterling.

Skeptics of the transition like Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, say the lack of those details is why he can't support the concept at this time. Like advocates, he says he's eagerly looking forward to the plan's release because data should settle the argument.

"Let's resolve it one way or the other so we can take the uncertainty out of the economy," said Scott.

But a controversial MIT economist is crunching the numbers on the governor's plan, so its release may stir more argument about pros and cons rather than settling the debate.

When asked about the controversial consultant Jonathan Gruber, Lt. Gov. Scott says there is a problem with trust.

Sterling on the other hand literally shrugged off any concern.

The administration has indicated that any numbers the consultant produces will be double-checked by state economists.