BURLINGTON, Vt. – In 2011, while the rest of America argued the merits of the president’s Affordable Care Act, Vermont jumped the progressive curve, promising to launch the nation’s first health single-payer system, in which state government pays providers to care for all residents.
Now, even Democrats say that plan, called Green Mountain Care, isn’t ready for its proposed 2017 rollout, and Rep. Jim Condon told Vermont Watchdog it’s time for Gov. Peter Shumlin to shelve the ambitious plan immediately.
“The deadlines for proposing financing have been missed two years in a row now, so to me that’s very disappointing. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that there is no financing plan,” Condon told Vermont Watchdog.
As Vermont Watchdog reported, an independent report by the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Avalere Health concluded that the costs of Green Mountain Care would require Vermont to raise tax revenue roughly equal to the state’s tax collections from all sources today.
Condon, a Democrat from Colchester, said he thinks a single-payer system in Vermont would “cost more” than a couple of previous estimates. Those estimates pegged the cost for single-payer at anywhere from $ 1.6 billion to $ 2.2 billion annually.
“It’s a government program [so] I think it’s going to cost more than that. Given that, I think it would be in the best interest of Vermonters to redirect our energies away from single-payer health care to trying to improve the system we’re in now,” Condon added.
Condon was one of three “Blue Dog Democrats” to vote against Act 48, the legislation establishing the transition to a single-payer health care system. According to Act 48, Green Mountain Care cannot have any negative implications for Vermont’s economy. But Condon said he’s not aware of any other way to pay for it outside of federal funding or raising taxes. And for that reason, Condon said he’s urging Gov. Shumlin not to seek a waiver from Obamacare, which the state must obtain from the federal government in order for single-payer to be implemented.
“They wouldn’t be able to ask for [the Obamacare waiver] until the economic analysis is done, and we cannot do an economic analysis until we have a financing plan. So, right now I suppose it’s in limbo,” he said.
In that limbo, both the administration and lawmakers continue to allocate state resources in hopes the state will still be able to provide health care to of all its residents by Jan. 2017, something Condon said is a “waste of resources at this point. Just to submit an application for a waiver from the Affordable Care Act is probably going to take half a year to determine, in and of itself.”
“There are people working on it [who] could be doing other things,” he added.
How many people are working on Green Mountain Care is unclear. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said during an interview with Vermont Watchdog last week that he’s not even sure who exactly is working on the implementation of single-payer.
“I know we have a lot of people who are working on the exchange. I know we have the Green Mountain Care Board that is working on cost controls. But I’m still not sure who is working on the single-payer initiative,” Scott said.
Sen. Bobby Starr, another Democrat who voted against Act 48, told Vermont Watchdog in January there’s “no way” single-payer can work without new taxes. Indeed, no lawmaker has introduced any bill that would finance single-payer health care without also raising taxes.
One bill, introduced by Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham), would impose a 13-percent payroll tax (11 percent on employers and 2-percent on employees) as well as a 10-percent tax on non-wage income. A second bill, also introduced by Galbraith, would phase in single-payer financing beginning in 2015 with a “transitional fund.” Galbraith’s second proposal would levy a 1.5-percent self employment tax increase in addition to reserving 7.7 percent of state income taxes for single-payer.