Dems defeat ultimatum on single-payer plan

March 29, 2014

Rutland Herald

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin was spared a tough squeeze Friday when his fellow Democrats in the Vermont House defeated a demand that he soon produce a financing plan for the universal, state-backed health care system he wants to launch in 2017.

The battle was fought in a series of amendments on a budget bill, and concluded with one offered by a Democrat, Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, that was much less tough than alternatives offered by minority Republicans earlier in the day.

Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Cynthia Browning of Arlington, roundly criticized the governor and his administration for so far failing to produce a detailed plan to pay for a universal health plan — sometimes called “single-payer,” though that’s a bit of a misnomer — that has been a centerpiece of Shumlin’s agenda since he took office in 2011.

They pointed to a 2012 law that called for the governor to do so by January 2013 — 14 months ago.

Rep. Thomas Koch, R-Barre Town, offered an amendment calling for a freeze in money going to the Green Mountain Care Board, the five-member state panel and staff working to develop the universal health care plan, to be called Green Mountain Care.

Koch said that under his amendment, the board’s budget “may not be spent until the administration delivers the report on financing of the single-payer system that was due 14 months ago.”

Johnson’s amendment, a substitute for Koch’s, said portions of the Green Mountain Care system could not be “operationalized” — or implemented — until the financing plan was made public.

That produced a series of questions from Republicans designed to get Johnson to acknowledge that portions of the Green Mountain Care system would not be implemented until much closer to 2017, giving the governor, who now is promising a financing plan by early next year, more time.

“The word ‘operationalize’ will live forever in infamy as how to replace an amendment with one that does nothing,” said Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington.

Shumlin defended the time he is taking as he responded to questions at a news conference Thursday.

“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,” Shumlin said. “My problem is that we don’t have it right yet.”