Led by Vermont House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton), a group of more than 20 state lawmakers stood together at the statehouse in February to announce a package of health care bills charting an alternative to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s (D) single-payer plan.
Shumlin abandoned his proposal at the end of 2014 when he announced he could not support legislation raising the needed revenue for its implementation.
“We assured our constituents that, if elected, we would offer alternatives to bring some stability, protect patient rights and choices, and offer greater access and improve affordability,” Turner said at the event. “Today we offer a number of other bills with alternative approaches to achieve what we believe Vermonters are seeking.”
Turner says Shumlin’s failed single-payer plan is the “demise of the great single-payer dream.” Turner was also critical of Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health exchange established under the Affordable Care Act.
“Vermonters could not be expected to suffer new taxes in excess of $2 billion dollars a year to pay for a government health care monopoly brought to you and managed by the same people who failed to convert $170 million federal dollars into a working health insurance exchange serving just over a hundred thousand people,” Turner said.
Legislation Embodies New Approach
If passed by the state’s legislature, the bills would replace Vermont’s current online exchange, give Vermonters the power to choose providers and insurers in- or out-of-state, shield seniors from state efforts to control Medicare funds, and protect doctors from expensive lawsuits that drive up the cost of health care.
State Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield), ranking member on the House Committee on Health Care, says she’s confident the plan will gain traction because of shifting political winds.
“I am very excited about the new atmosphere this year, the openness in the Health Care Committee to relook at where we’re going, the healthy skepticism about some of the administration’s proposals,” Donahue said. “I have great optimism that the proposals being outlined here today are going to receive strong, full review and serious consideration.”
One proposal introduced in the legislature, House Bill 78, would let Vermonters buy health insurance outside the state exchange and even from out-of-state businesses. Another, House Bill 177, would shut down Vermont Health Connect and move customers to the federal exchange.
At present, Vermont is the only state mandating everyone purchase health insurance through the glitch-ridden state health care insurance exchange.
Protects Provider Choices
State Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington) spoke at the press conference in favor of a proposal to let patients choose their own health providers.
“It’s essential that Vermonters be able to choose their doctor, whether that doctor is part of the insurance system under the supervision of the Green Mountain Care Board or practicing independently,” Browning said.
“I have some concern with the governor’s proposal to pursue an all-payer waiver, as he intends to control revenues related to Medicare,” state Rep. Mary Morrissey (R- Bennington) said at the news conference.
“By removing Medicare language from [Act 48], we can protect seniors from being negatively impacted by Gov. Shumlin’s reform experiment,” Morrissey said.
The group also took aim at Shumlin’s proposed 0.7 percent payroll tax on businesses, intended to subsidize Medicaid’s chronic underpayments to health care providers.
“The last thing [small businesses] need is … a payroll tax that will cause them additional stress,” state Rep. Robert Bancroft (R-Westford) said at the press event. “Many small businesses are having difficulty making ends meet. … It’s naïve to assume that a 0.7 payroll tax is so small and so minor that it won’t have an impact on businesses.”
“We don’t believe government can fix everything,” Turner said. “Throwing money at every issue is not the answer. We have to redefine the way government is doing business and reprioritize so we can be more effective with taxpayer dollars.”
Bruce Parker ([email protected]) writes for Watchdog.org, where an earlier version of this story originally appeared. Reprinted with permission.