Four years ago, Gov. Peter Shumlin vowed to institute a single-payer health care system in Vermont. Later this month, he’ll finally tell Vermonters how he plans to pay for it.
Shumlin is among the most gifted political sales people in Vermont history. But he’s got his work cut out for him on his signature policy venture.
After spending his first two terms in office singing the virtues of single-payer, Shumlin says he’s now on the verge of actually revealing the taxes he wants to use to fund it.
In a small hotel conference room in Burlington Wednesday, he previewed one of the many advertising tools he’ll use to pitch Vermonters on his plan.
The video, made in-house by the Shumlin administration, depicts animated whiteboard drawings of two women who are similarly situated economically but who, by virtue of an employer-based health insurance system, pay drastically different amounts for coverage.
The fractured system they’re a part of, Shumlin will argue, is broken beyond repair. And the surest way to mend it, Shumlin says, is the publicly financed program he’ll propose later this month..
“Really the intent of this … video is to begin a conversation about what is so broken about the way we pay for health care in Vermont and in America,” Shumlin says. “We have never looked collectively at who pays what here how and when, and how incredibly unfair - and in many cases - regressive it is.”
That “conversation” will begin in earnest at the end this month, when Shumlin says he’s unveil a plan to do away with private health insurance premiums, and replace them with new taxes that raise on the order of $2 billion.
The administration will roll out the benefits plan for this universal system sometime in the next couple weeks. Shumlin says he wants to get all aspects of the proposal out before lawmakers are sworn in in early January.
Shumlin says his own health insurance story helps make the case for a new program that would, he says, do a better job of distributing costs based on Vermonters’ ability to pay.
“As one of the highest paid, or I think highest paid, person in state government, as an example, I pay exactly the same amount for my family plan for health care as does the hardworking team that comes in and cleans my office at the end of the day,” Shumlin says.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning says the revenue plan is long overdue. Shumlin in early 2013 defied a statutory obligation to present a single-payer financing proposal.
But Benning questions the wisdom of having a tiny state of 660,000 people undertake its own single-payer system. He says it's a public policy experiment probably better suited to an entire country “not … a very small state like Vermont trying to support a program that could very well cloud the entire state budget in a way that we have difficulty doing much else.”
With the state still struggling to fix problems at the state’s health insurance exchange, even many of the governor’s Democratic allies will likely share Benning’s skepticism.
And while Shumlin had previously said he wanted to have a single-payer plan in place by 2017, he’s since conceded that the timeline may have been too aggressive. On Wednesday, he declined to say whether he even wants lawmakers to vote on his financing plan next year.