MONTPELIER Supporters of a plan to make Vermont the first state in the country to enact a single-payer health care system urged Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Legislature on Tuesday to move forward with the overhaul, despite Shumlin’s narrow victory in the November election.
Sixteen groups, including the state employees and teachers unions, held a Statehouse press conference to rebut critics of Green Mountain Care who say the election was a referendum on the publicly funded system. They say the election was so close because of property taxes and other issues.
But they acknowledged that garnering support for the plan will be an uphill battle following the debacle with Vermont’s health exchange website.
Gov. Peter Shumlin said Tuesday he remains committed to the proposal and hopes to provide a financing plan and timeline to legislators before the session opens in January.
The administration will outline in the next several weeks what’s wrong with how the current system is funded and the challenges the state faces to sustain current spending, Shumlin said.
“One of the toughest things that I’ve tried to do is … be the first state in the country that moves from a premium-based health care system to one that’s based upon ability to pay,” he said. “We’ve been working hard to try to get it right. Now the economists are drilling down into it to make sure that it helps our economy, helps grow jobs and improves quality of life and that work is still being done.”
But Darcie Johnston, leader of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, a group opposed to the state’s health care plans, said the fact that advocates held a press conference to urge the governor to move forward confirms that they have a public relations problem with the public.
“Vermonters are taxed enough, and a $2 billion to $3 billion tax increase, a financing plan that has not been disclosed that is two years late by law, lack of transparency, and Peter Shumlin’s mismanagement of Vermont Health Connect were issues that dominated the election,” she said.
The state temporarily shut down the state health care exchange website this year to fix several problems that plagued it since its launch, including trouble with pages loading, security issues and the inability for enrollees to make some changes online.
A survey of the 3,000-member Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, AFT Vermont, showed overwhelming support for singer payer, said Mari Cordes, a nurse member of the union.
What health care providers want is for anyone who needs medical attention to get it as early as possible with no barriers to accessing care, when their condition worsens or becomes life-threatening and costlier to treat, she said.
“Get the insurance companies out of our exam rooms and get our hard-earned money out of administrative waste and exorbitant CEO compensation,” Cordes said. “A universal publicly funded health care system is the only way to do that.”
Such a system will also benefit businesses by delinking insurance from employment and allowing them to expand and create jobs, said Dan Barlow, of the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
“If we don’t stem the rising costs of health care and we don’t expand coverage to all Vermonters and delink employment and insurance, health care costs will overwhelm our economy and we’ll lose jobs here in the state,” he said.
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