On December 17, Vermont Governor Shumlin announced that he was suspending his efforts to implement Green Mountain Care (Act 48), the 2011 law that makes healthcare a right for every Vermonter. He had been scheduled to submit a financing proposal and plan design to the state legislature when it convenes in January. The final plan would then have been submitted to the federal government for approval under state waivers available through the Affordable Care Act beginning in 2017.
Shumlin claimed that after reviewing new cost estimates for a plan with an actuarial value of 94% (a plan similar to one covering state employees and paying approximately 94% of total health care costs) it “was just not affordable.” “Pushing for single payer health care when the time isn’t right and it might hurt our economy would not be good for Vermont,” he added.
The cost estimates were greater than originally anticipated because of slower than expected economic growth, a projected cost of $200 million per year to provide for cross-border commuter coverage, increased Medicaid costs and an estimated $150 million decrease in the amount of federal funding available for the transition. According to the Governor, the new cost estimates would have required an employer-paid payroll tax of 11.5% and a progressive income tax maxing out at a marginal rate of 9.5% for family incomes in excess of $102,000.
Shumlin vowed to continue to pursue a series of incremental changes in the state healthcare system to promote quality, cost containment and efficiency. “If we do these things, we will achieve a significant and meaningful part of the goal we set out for ourselves in Act 48.”
Politics. Not Economics.
“The Governor’s decision is political, not economic,” said University of Massachusetts economist Gerald Friedman. Friedman has worked to help design financing plans for a number of state single-payer proposals. “The new estimated costs for a comprehensive healthcare plan that would cover all Vermonters that were released yesterday are between $100 and $300 million more than earlier projected by both the Hsiao-Gruber commission and me. It is not clear that these new estimates fully account for administrative savings. The Governor is abandoning Vermont’s single-payer plan because it is slightly more expensive than expected.”
In the November gubernatorial election, Shumlin, a Democrat, won a bare plurality of the votes. The Vermont Progressive Party—a substantial statewide political party with five elected State Representatives and three State Senators—chose not to run a candidate, largely because of Shumlin’s support for Green Mountain Care and other initiatives. His Republican opponent charged at that time that single-payer was “dead” and that Shumlin was “going to wait until after the election to tell you.”
After the election, Shumlin reassured a number of single-payer advocates that he was still on track to release a financing report in time for the legislature to act in January. Reaction from state health care justice activists to his December 17 announcement ranged from disappointment to outrage.
“I’m trying to figure out how we can move forward, and I hope that my legislative colleagues are not hearing that this needs to be the end of healthcare reform,” said State Representative Chris Pearson, the leader of he Legislature’s Progressive Caucus.
Dr. Deb Richter, the founder of Vermont Healthcare for All said, “I’ve been at this for 26 years and I knew it was a heavy lift to begin with, but I don’t think this is the death knell of single-payer. I think we’re going to have to move more slowly.”
Martha Allen, President of the Vermont NEA, reiterated the strong labor support for Green Mountain Care. “I and my fellow Vermont-NEA members …urge the Governor and Legislature to get down to business right now so that all Vermonters will understand that a publicly financed, universally available health care system is better for all of us.”
Public Citizen’s Vijay Das stated that, “The continuing healthcare crisis in America is both an economic and social justice issue…The people in Vermont cannot wait. The Governor should reconsider his plans to delay financing a universal healthcare plan in his state.”
The Fight Goes On.
The Vermont Workers Center issued a statement emphasizing that Governor Shumlin has a responsibility to enact a financing plan under Act 48. “[We] remind the Governor that healthcare is a human right…We all currently pay for our hodgepodge healthcare system. Moving to a different financing mechanism has nothing to do with raising new money…The Governor’s task at hand was to shift private payments to a more equitable public financing mechanism.”
They added that they did not believe that the Governor “showed sufficient commitment to identifying alternative public financing mechanisms for a service that is already being paid for by all of us.” They pledged that they “will keep on fighting for our right to healthcare, and we call on our legislators to join us in this fight and move forward with an equitable public financing plan for universal healthcare in our state.”
On December 18, supporters of the Vermont Workers Center and other union members marched through the streets of the state capitol, burning their healthcare bills and confronting Governor Shumlin in the statehouse. They chanted, “If we burn, you will burn with us.”
At the Labor Campaign’s national strategy conference last summer, we resolved that all of labor owes a debt of solidarity to the Vermont healthcare justice movement. Now is the time for all of labor to stand with Vermont in the fight to secure the promise of healthcare for all. Healthcare-NOW! has posted a petition urging the legislature to move forward with the enactment of Act 48. You can sign it here.