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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Shumlin Delays Unveiling Of Health Care Financing Options

The Shumlin Administration earlier this year promised to give lawmakers their first look at how Vermont might pay for single-payer health care. But the governor has once again opted to delay his financing timeline.

It’s been three years since Peter Shumlin vowed to deliver the nation’s first publicly financed health care system. But he has yet to show voters what taxes he’d use to raise the $2 billion or so  needed to fund the program.

"My goal is to get us there (with a single payer system) by Jan. 1 2017. That’s my goal. I will not fall off the turnip truck if I miss that by a week or a month or more." - Gov. Peter Shumlin, on his decision to delay briefing lawmakers on potential health care financing plans.

That mystery was due to be partially solved in the next few weeks, when the administration planned to unveil a menu of financing concepts to the Vermont Legislature. On at least two occasions in December and January, Shumlin told Democratic lawmakers that he’d deliver financing “alternatives” during this legislative session. And Michael Costa, the administration’s public financing czar, reiterated that commitment during a legislative hearing on Jan. 17.

The remarks came into response to a question from Sen. Tim Ashe, the Democratic/Progressive chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, who asked Costa to “just clarify what the governor does intend to do in this legislative session while we’re here in the building until early May?”

“I think what the governor said in his testimony before the joint meeting before the health care committees was that at a certain point later in the session, in the spring, that we’d have a  broad discussion about several different concepts,  you know, ways in which you could pay for Green Mountain Care,” Costa said. And that would be the beginning of a conversation about ways in which you could raise the revenues necessary to care for all Vermonters. And so it’s not more complex than that.”

But it appears now that the broad discussion has been put off for another day. And Shumlin says he won’t be delivering those financing concepts after all.

“This lift – it’s going to be one of the most difficult lifts in political history in Vermont – is going to be done by the next Legislature,” Shumlin said on VPR's Vermont Edition Friday. “So I’m saying to my team, 'don’t spend a lot of time getting committees that won’t even be the same committees working on something that isn’t going to be voted on anyway, and that we don’t have the answers for yet.'”

It isn’t the first time the administration has missed a financing deadline. State statute actually required Shumlin to deliver a public financing plan for single-payer by Jan. 15 of last year. Shumlin said it was just too premature to comply with the mandate.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, says the administration has shown a knack for putting off conversations about funding in election years.

“I’ll have to confess it doesn’t surprise me,” Benning said Friday of the news that financing concepts had been put on hold. “We’ve been at this so long getting so frustrated for such a long period of time, waiting for answers on how this is supposed to work, that I think the longer that it plays out the more skeptical I become of whether or not it’s actually something they actually realize they can’t do, or we’re just being strung out in the political game trying to keep alive the next election cycle.”

Shumlin says he still hopes to have the single-payer program in place by January of 2017. He says he’s more concerned about getting it done properly than he is by meeting deadlines.

“My goal is to get us there by Jan. 1 2017. That’s my goal,” Shumlin said. “I will not fall off the turnip truck if I miss that by a week or a month or more.”

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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