Shumlin welcomes input on heatlh care system

July 27, 2011

Rutland Herald

By Brent Curtis
Gov. Peter Shumlin said he knew there were doubters in the audience he addressed at universal health care forum in Rutland on Monday.

“I know not everyone in this room or in Vermont thinks we’re on the right track with health care,” Shumlin said to the roughly 100 people gathered in the Rutland Intermediate School auditorium.

But he said Vermont has nothing to lose and more than healthy living to gain if a plan to implement the first single-payer system in the union came to pass and he asked doubters of the initiative to help find solutions rather than just pointing out flaws.

“I come to you as the governor, a business person and a father and I ask that before you attack the plan and say it doesn’t work, help us design it,” he said.

To be sure, the skeptics were out there — a flier showing unsustainable cost estimates put together by Rutland Treasurer Wendy Wilton was handed out at the school entrance and two speakers questioned the state’s ability to build and maintain a health care system.

“I’m a 67-year-old Vermonter and I’m always skeptical when I hear the government wants to take over something,” said Rutland resident Michael Lannon. “As citizens we’ll be taxed more if it’s not done right.”

But most of those who spoke on Monday just wanted answers to specific questions about coverage, taxes, job creation and federal support.

In most cases, the answers to those questions were incomplete because the state is at the start of an expected two-year planning process to design a system.

“A lot of people think this thing is fully baked but that’s not the case,” Shumlin’s health care adviser Anya Rader Wallack said in answer to one of about a half-dozen questions she and Cassandra Gekas, a health care advocate with Vermont Public Interest Research Group, fielded during the forum.

The two women, who answered questions after the governor left for another engagement, said a five-member health care board would spend the next two years figuring out everything from cost controls and payment systems to questions about how much care to provide.

Once those questions are answered, the plan will be turned over to the Legislature and the administration which will decide whether to adopt a universal system or stick with the status quo.

The one assurance Shumlin said he could make was that he wouldn’t support any single-payer plan that wasn’t more affordable than the current system which he said had doubled in cost to $5 billion over the last decade and would cost billions more by 2015.

That kind of cost increase would put a burden on every person and business operating in the state, he said.

“If we can get this right we win in health care, in jobs, in economic advantage,” he said.