Shumlin Single-Payer Effort Hurts Re-Election

Published December 17, 2014

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin’s efforts to bring government-run single-payer health care to his state may have cost him politically and prevented his direct reelection to another term.

During his 2014 campaign, Shumlin faced severe criticism on the campaign trail over his single-payer plan, particularly over an unsuccessful attempt to get control of Medicare in Vermont.

Shumlin received 46.4 percent of the vote to Republican opponent Scott Milne’s 45.1 percent. Shumlin received 58 percent of the vote in his 2012 reelection campaign. Under Vermont law, if no candidate for governor receives a majority in the election, the state legislature selects the winner.

“Shumlin is damaged,” said Rob Roper of the Ethan Allen Institute, a think tank in Vermont. “He’s upset everyone but the people in Montpelier who want single-payer. I wouldn’t be surprised if the legislature chooses someone else to be governor.”

The legislature will select the next governor in early January.

Medicare, Funding Pitfalls

Shumlin’s efforts to get control of Medicare in Vermont first drew serious criticism in the campaign from Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano, who announced in early October he intended to “ring the alarm bell and make sure that Vermont senior citizens know that Gov. Shumlin wants to take control of their Medicare benefits from the federal government to help offset costs of the single-payer system.”

Feliciano also charged seniors’ access to health care and physicians could be seriously limited if Medicare were incorporated into single-payer. “If Gov. Shumlin is allowed to continue on his reckless path, seniors will find themselves enrolled in the single-payer plan with no other options,” he stated.  

Shumlin’s campaign denied the charge, but the issue gained steam when it was revealed he had made a trip to Washington, DC in September to seek state control of the federal program in Vermont.

Adding to Shumlin’s difficulties, the law authorizing Vermont to pursue single-payer health care directed the state to “obtain waivers, exemptions, agreements, legislation, or a combination thereof to ensure that, to the extent possible under federal law, all federal payments provided within the state for health services are paid directly to Green Mountain Care,” which would include Medicare.

“As expected, Vermont’s senior citizens have been up in arms since this was revealed,” Roper said. “This lit a fuse under them because they don’t want the people who screwed up their property taxes to screw up their Medicare.  

“Shumlin … went to Washington, DC in September to see about the state taking control of Medicare, and as a result he didn’t gain a majority in his election and the position of governor will now be decided by the legislature,” Roper said.

No Funding Plan

In addition to the controversy over Medicare, Shumlin’s reelection may have been damaged further by his failure to explain how single-payer health care would be funded, plus the failure of the state’s health insurance exchange Web site.

Shumlin’s refusal to release the financing plan before the election drew bipartisan criticism, including from Democratic State Representative Cynthia Browning, who sued under the state’s freedom of information laws to get the details of the financing plan. She told the Burlington Free-Press not releasing the financing plan prevented accountability to voters.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) is a freelance writer for The Heartland Institute.