Donít quit before you start

March 27, 2014

Rutland Herald

By: Ellen Oxfeld, Middlebury

This week in a VPR interview, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell backed away from an unwavering commitment to the historic task set out in Act 48 — creating a publicly funded guaranteed health care system for all Vermonters. 

Campbell’s stated reason for this is disappointing. He demurred that he was not sure that a single-payer financing plan would be “politically viable” in the Legislature because of the “costs” of single payer. 

Senator Campbell needs to reconsider. It’s true that financing a single-payer plan will cost about $2 billion; but that is actually less than we Vermonters are already paying. (In fact, in 2011, we Vermonters paid $2.5 billion in private premiums and out-of-pockets for our health care.)

It is also odd to see a Senate leader shrinking from his delegated role of doing just what he has been selected to do, lead. In the past, Senator Campbell has been a leader on many issues, such as marriage equality and in passing Act 48, the 2011 road map legislation for single-payer. Yes, successfully enacting an equitable and viable single-payer financing package will not be easy. It will take political courage. 

But the facts support moving forward, not giving up before even trying. After all, in five official studies commissioned since 2001 by the state of Vermont, the conclusion has always been the same — there is no other way to guarantee health care for all Vermonters while containing costs other than a publicly financed (“single-payer”) system. 

The Senate president stated that he would like an “alternate” plan in case single-payer financing does not work out. But we already have an alternate plan in place — the Affordable Care Act. And although that act has certainly helped some individuals to purchase private insurance, it still leaves in place our multi-tiered system of different private plans, with different levels of coverage and the expenses created by the complex administration of such a system. 

Furthermore, a situation in which there are multiple levels of private plans can never guarantee access to health care for all. It can still leave people with inadequate financial protection, or even without health care coverage at all, in the event that they change jobs, lose jobs, or experience changes in their financial status.

Act 48 was not passed on a fanciful whim. It passed because it built upon two decades of experience and numerous studies. Alternatives to a publicly financed health care plan for all were studied and tried, but none offered the possibility of both universality and cost control. Publicly financed systems throughout the world surpass our present system by guaranteeing access to health care for all while simplifying administration and containing costs effectively. 

The vision of guaranteed health care and an affordable health care system can be reached in Vermont. Vermonters will be ill served if our political leaders step away from the road map laid out in Act 48, which they voted for and passed.