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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Shumlin: 'Don't Quit' On Single Payer Before Work Begins

Gov. Peter Shumlin is fiercely defending his plan to implement a single payer health care system after Senate President John Campbell expressed concerns about the plan.

A number of Democrats are reluctant to commit to a single payer plan before there’s a comprehensive review of the $2 billion financing system that will be needed to pay for it. Some Democratic lawmakers worry that moving to a single payer health care system in several years could be a political liability. They also want to know the details of the benefit package that will be part of a single payer program.

"Do not quit before we start." Governor Peter Shumlin reacting to concerns from Senate Democratic leaders about financing a single payer system

When Senate President John Campbell raised concerns about the financing plan earlier this week, he said out loud what a number of Democrats are saying privately – that they need to develop an alternative to single payer in case that approach encounters problems. 

“It demonstrates that that may not be something that would be politically viable in this legislative body due to the cost involved,” said Campbell. “I want to make sure that we have a place to go if this doesn’t work out, this single payer itself.”

Gov. Shumlin reacted to Campbell’s comments this way:

“What I would argue strongly is don’t quit before we start,” said Shumlin. “Don’t quit before we start.”

Act 48, the state’s health care reform law, required the governor last year to outline some financing options for lawmakers to consider. That didn’t happen.

At the beginning of this session, the governor said a menu of options would be released in April. He has since decided to wait until 2015 to address the financing question.

Some lawmakers think the governor wants to avoid having the financing plan become an issue in his re-election campaign. He insists that’s not the reason for the delay.

“I’m not reluctant to share anything with Vermonters. Any time I think we have it right I will be the first as you know to share it with every single Vermonter that’s willing to help us,” said Shumlin. “My problem is that we don’t have it right yet.”

And Shumlin says he’s convinced that skeptics, like Senator Campbell, will embrace the single payer approach when all the facts are on the table.

“I believe that we will collectively come to the same conclusion, that moving to a system where you spend less money for better quality and better outcomes,” said Shumlin. “Combined with a payment system where we all, based on our ability to pay, (will) lead to prosperity and an affordable quality health care system for all.”

Despite the delay in developing a financing plan, Shumlin says he still thinks there’s enough time to meet his target date of 2017 for Vermont to become the first state in the country to implement a single payer health care system.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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