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Key Single-Payer Advocate Says VSEA Health Plan Is Perfect Model

A key Statehouse supporter of a single-payer health care system says the dismal performance of the state’s health care exchange has undermined public confidence in sweeping reform efforts.

It’s a critical reason why Washington Sen. Anthony Pollina is searching for a plan that clearly demonstrates the benefits of a single-payer approach and Pollina thinks he has found it.

Pollina says it’s important to have a specific plan for Vermonters to focus on because  he thinks the technical problems that have plagued Vermont Health Connect, the state’s health care exchange, have definitely hurt public support for single payer.

“There’s no doubt that the roll out of Health Connect has been pretty much a disaster,” said Pollina. “And it has shaken a lot of people’s faith in the ability of state government to put together something that would work.”

Pollina says that for many people, a single-payer system is an abstract concept and it’s hard to understand how it would work.

"When you see a doctor you don't pay a lot of money in co-pays, deductibles and things like that. And that's one of the reasons state employees have been able to control their health care costs." - Peter Sterling, Vermont Leads executive director

He thinks the Vermont State Employees Association plan is the perfect model for a state single-payer system. Pollina says it’s a self-insured plan that’s financed with individual premiums and tax dollars and it’s administered by a third party group which in this case is Blue Cross.

“I would rather put the VSEA plan on the table and say, 'Let’s see how we can all be part of this,'” said Pollina. “As opposed to putting some abstract idea on the table and say, 'Why don’t we try to cobbler together a single-payer health care system starting from scratch?' It seems like it makes more sense to me.”

Vermont Leads is a single payer advocacy group that is funded primarily by the Vermont Teachers’ union. Peter Sterling, the group’s executive director, strongly supports Pollina’s approach because he says it gives the public a concrete plan to consider.

“With the VSEA plan as a model we can say, 'Hey Vermonters, this is what single payer is going to look like,'” said Sterling. “And I think that’s the important next step we need to take to get the public totally behind the move to universal health care.”

Over the past three years, the VSEA plan has had no premium increases. In fact, in 2014, most state employees had a roughly 15 percent decrease in their annual premiums. This comes at a time when other private insurance plans have seen double digit increases.

Sterling says this is happening because the VSEA plan has low deductibles and low co-payments and he thinks this encourages people to get care in a timely manner.

“Meaning when you see a doctor you don’t pay a lot of money in co-pays, deductibles and things like that,” said Sterling. “And that’s one of the reasons state employees have been able to control their health care costs so much because it’s very affordable to see the doctor and they don’t end up putting off necessary care.”

Sterling says using the VSEA plan as a model could initially make single payer more expensive. But he argues that the savings associated with this approach will make the entire system more cost effective in a matter of years.

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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