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Shumlin Leans On Business Community For Single Payer Advice

Governor Peter Shumlin is increasingly seeking the advice of the state’s business community as Vermont prepares to launch the country’s first single payer health care system. But critics of the plan say the governor is surrounding himself with like-minded business leaders, some of whom have donated to his campaigns.

Earlier this month, Shumlin proposed that businessman Al Gobeille succeed Anya Rader Wallack, one of the country’s health care reform leaders who will resign in September, as chair of the Green Mountain Care Health Board. That’s the panel responsible for moving the state to a single-payer system.

“He’s an incredibly quick learner,” Shumlin said, of Gobeille. “He’s the quiet guy and one of the smartest guys in the room. And as we move forward to a single payer health care system that’s affordable for both Vermonters and for business, it’s great to have a business person who has the respect of the business community leading the charge.”

The governor has also formed a 20-member business advisory council that includes Win Smith, the owner of Sugarbush Resort, and Andrew Brewer of Onion River Sports. At his weekly news conference, Shumlin said the reliance on business executives is not a sign that his administration is making a major shift in its approach to a publicly funded health care system.

“I would hope the public would see that as my determined commitment to implement the first single payer sensible health care system in America where health care is a right and not a privilege, where it follows the individual and isn’t required by the employer, and where we contain costs,” Shumlin said. “I’m bound and determined to get this done so I’m bringing the best people on to do it.”

Shumlin says he understands many challenges face Vermont before successful implementation, and he’s heard repeatedly the concerns that there’s no funding mechanism in place. The advisory group, Shumlin hopes, will help develop a financial plan.

“I understand that we’re going to have to finance a single payer health care system in a smart way that grows jobs and has everybody making a commitment based on their ability to pay,” Shumlin said. “We have a two year transparent process to be able to have that conversation about the best way to pay for a health care system that is going to cost us less than we otherwise would have paid.”

But critics of the single payer plan say that process is not transparent enough. Darcie Johnston, the founder of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, points out that most of the businesses appointed are allies or donors to the governor.

“I didn’t see any of the granite businesses. I didn’t see any of the printing companies – any of the small employers,” she said. “It was mostly the Business Roundtable, the Lake Champlain Chamber.”

Although the governor noted that Vermont’s unemployment rate has fallen to 4.4 percent, the third lowest in the nation, Johnston said the growth of employment has stalled.

The state’s economy needs to expand, Johnston argued, and the uncertainty surrounding the governor’s single payer plan is preventing businesses from growing.