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

With Uninsured Vermonters At 3 Percent, Shumlin Urges Trump To Keep Obamacare

Peter Hirschfeld
Gov. Peter Shumlin says the 25,000 previously-uninsured Vermonters who have enrolled in health plans since the Affordable Care Act passed could become sad statistics if the law is repealed.

Gov. Peter Shumlin is urging President-elect Donald Trump to reconsider his pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

When Shumlin took office in 2011, nearly 8 percent of Vermonters lacked health insurance. Today, that figure is down to below 3 percent. And he says the landmark legislation known as Obamacare is largely responsible for that improvement. 

Audio for this story will be posted.

Peter Youngbaer is the executive director of the People’s Health and Wellness Clinic in Barre, an organization that exists in part to provide care to uninsured Vermonters. But since the passage of federal Affordable Care Act, Youngbaer says they’ve been able to enroll even low-income patients in affordable policies.

At a press conference in Montpelier on Tuesday, Youngbaer recalled the man who showed up with a potentially cancerous growth on his back.

“And we were able to sign him up,” Younbaer says. “He now has a qualified health plan and actually has a primary care physician.”

And then there was the uninsured patient who, it would later turn out, had lung cancer.

“And [he] needed an intensive chemotherapy treatment,” Younbaer says. “He got that, and is now in remission and doing well.”

"We forget that [that] 25,000 Vermonters ... don't wake up in the morning worried that if they get sick, they have to make horrid choices." — Gov. Peter Shumlin

Youngbaer and Shumlin say these kinds of success stories are thanks largely to the subsidies and tax credits available under Obamacare. And Shumlin says the 25,000 previously-uninsured Vermonters who have enrolled in health plans since the law passed could become sad statistics if it’s repealed.

“We forget that that’s 25,000 Vermonters who don’t wake up in the morning worried that if they get sick, they have to make horrid choices between getting the health care that they deserve or paying their bills, facing bankruptcy,” Shumlin says. 

Shumlin is among the Democratic officials across the U.S. urging Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate to abandon plans to repeal the federal legislation. 

Darcie Johnston, formerly the director of the Trump campaign in Vermont, says the calls are premature, since Shumlin has no idea what Trump and his fellow Republicans will replace Obamacare with.

“And it’s unfair to fear-monger about what that replacement plan will be, and to assume, automatically assume, that it’s going to throw tens of thousands of people off their health care,” Johnston says.

"It's unfair to fear-monger about what that replacement plan will be, and to assume ... that it's going to throw tens of thousands of people off their health care." — Darcie Johnston, former Trump Vermont campaign director

Johnston is also founder and director of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, a group created to oppose Shumlin’s previous push for a single-payer health care system in Vermont. 

She says the Obamacare health care plans being sold on Vermont Health Connect come with out-of-pocket costs well beyond most Vermonters' ability to pay. And she says Republicans deserve a chance to improve upon a flawed program.

“Lots of people will be working on it, to make it better, to make it more consumer friendly, to make it so that folks can have health care that they can afford to use, not just to say that they have health care,” Johnston says.

Even Democratic officeholders have bemoaned rising insurance rates under Obamacare. Former President Bill Clinton famously called it a “crazy system.”

But the Shumlin administration says the federal program has delivered $80 million to $100 million in new insurance subsidies for Vermonters. 

“And if Obamacare is repealed, that goes out the window. And they go with it,” Shumlin says.

Shumlin says Vermont’s online insurance exchange has made major improvements in recent months, that the state will be able to administer Obamacare effectively, so long as the law stays in place.

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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