Medicare Becomes Hot Issue in Governor's Race

October 29, 2014

Vermont Public Radio
Bob Kinzel

In the final weeks of the campaign, the future of Medicare benefits for Vermont seniors has become a hotly debated issue in the race for governor.

It's an explosive subject because candidates who suggest changes to Medicare risk losing the support of many voters over 65.

So how did Medicare become an issue in the governor’s race?

When Act 48, the landmark health care reform law, was passed in 2011, it contained a provision that allowed the state to “assume responsibility” for all Medicare services if a single-payer system were put into place. But this language was removed during the 2014 session.

"My concern would be that people may not get the benefits that they think they were originally going to get." - Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano
This winter, the Shumlin administration is expected to seek what is known as an “all payer” waiver from the federal government.

The administration says it wants the waiver so that payment reform efforts, developed by the Green Mountain Care Board, can be applied to Medicare providers. Right now, this change in payment isn’t allowed.

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano says the waiver is the beginning of Shumlin’s plan to take control of the Medicare program.

“My concern would be that people have already paid into Medicare and they may not get the benefits that they think they were originally going to get,” said Feliciano.

But Shumlin says Feliciano is dead wrong.

“No. Medicare will not change for Vermonters under our plan,” said Shumlin. They’ll still have their Medicare cards, they’ll use it whenever they go for health care services, it will be still be funded exactly the way it is today.”

Feliciano held a news conference to highlight his charge and he continues to talk about it on the campaign trail.

“When you look at the waiver, everything’s waived there’s no federal law,” said Feliciano. “Essentially they’re turning over the rights and the authority to administer Medicare as a program to the state.”

Shumlin says Feliciano clearly doesn’t understand that states are prohibited from making any changes to Medicare’s benefit package.

“It’s also against federal law to do so,” said Shumlin. “So even if we had the desire, which we don’t, it would be against federal law to do so.”

Shumlin says the implementation of payment reform is the most important factor in getting health care costs under control.

“So we’re trying to change the way we pay for the procedures that a Medicare recipient uses just as we’re doing that for the entire state,” said Shumlin. “We would very much like to have the providers, the doctors ,the nurses, get paid a fair amount of money for the Medicare work that they’re doing right now which under the current system is not happening.”

If the waiver is approved and the state adopts a single payer system, Shumlin says Medicare recipients could find that they have additional benefits under the Green Mountain Care package.