1-7-14 – Shumlin Preforms Emergency Surgery on Health Reform

Montpelier – Governor Peter Shumlin took the unusual step on this first day of theShumlin 2014 legislative session to address a joint committee of the House and Senate Healthcare committees to discuss the state of Vermont Health Connect and the path to a single payer system in 2017. The governor admitted it has been a rocky three months.

A few major points jumped out of his prepared remarks. The first is that he never once mentioned the term Vermont Health Connect. After spending $6 million dollars advertising the exchange, the name is apparently too toxic be spoken. Shumlin referred to it as “Vermont’s online insurance marketplace, required under the Affordable Care Act.”

Shumlin went on to explain, “This law was a product of Washington compromise, imposed on the states after a contentious fight in congress, and a two year legal battle that led all the way to the Supreme Court…. The contractors we hired to build it underperformed at every turn.” Or, as Bart Simpson would say, “I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can’t prove anything!” Shumlin is tossing the feds and the techies under the bus, even though his administration structured Vermont Health Connect specifically to be a springboard to single payer.

Not getting tossed under the bus, but being gently moved away from the action is Commissioner of Health Access, Mark Larson. Shumlin announced that Secretary of Commerce, Lawrence Miller, will be taking a larger role in overseeing the “day to day, nuts and bolts” implementation of Vermont Health Connect while Larson moves into more of a legislative liaison role in the State House. Shumlin said the move was Larson’s idea, allowing the Commissioner to save face after he botched the website roll out, losing the trust of many in the legislature in the process.

The governor also repeated his promise that, “We will not hit send on a new system unless we can assure ourselves that it will be sustainable, bend the cost curve, and help create jobs.” This is a slightly but noticeably softer version of his earlier quote, “We will only go ahead [with Green Mountain Care] if we’re convinced together as a state, that the system is better than what we have, that it costs less, it’s going to help create jobs, and we’ve got the cost containment system right. If we can’t do that, we’ll take our marbles and go home.” “Sustainable” is a lower bar than “better,” and “bends the cost curve” does not seem as ambitious as “costs less.”

Rep. Doug Gage (R-Rutland), one of only two remaining Republicans on the House Healthcare Committee, was not so confident of eventual better, lest costly future system. Questioning Green Mountain Care Board chairman, Al Gobellie, Gage remarked,

“We have spent over $100 million on the IT portion of [Vermont Health Connect] alone, and a cost of roughly $16 million dollars this year to run the exchange. And $24 million next year. Those are significant costs, and that’s before even a dime is paid for premiums…. The numbers just don’t crunch as far as savings, and that’s before a single penny on premiums is paid. I’ve never known the government to anything more efficiently, and this is proving me right…. I see this as a failure. So far, I don’t see anything about this that’s come through to help Vermonters have lower costs with more people insured…. More people are getting kicked off their policies from their employers than ever before.

 But, the governor is more eager than ever to push forward.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Weinheimer January 10, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Where has all of the liberal arrogance gone? They were going to develop the health care program that would become the pride the nation. Experts from far and wide predicted huge savings with health care for all. Now we have, according to Gov. Shumlin, “Vermont’s online insurance marketplace, required under the Affordable Care Act.” What happened? Instead of leading the way we are now victims of some health care drive by shooting and stuck with the bill at that.

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Doug Richmond, Underhill January 10, 2014 at 6:24 pm

To quote this article ” while Larson moves into more of a legislative liaison role in the State House. Shumlin said the move was Larson’s idea, allowing the Commissioner to save face after he botched the website roll out, losing the trust of many in the legislature in the process.”
This means they are moving Larson to Legislative Liaison, AFTER he was losing the trust of the Legislature? After telling (lying to) the Legislators everything was going fine? This is an administration in shambles, total panic. Do Something / Anything – it might be right !!

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Mark Donka January 11, 2014 at 6:50 am

Amazing the Governor never once spoke about the cost to the state or to Vermonters. He spoke about the opiate addiction problem in VT and how we can get it fixed. Again he does not say where the money will come from. I know all to well what a problem this. As a 33 year law enforcement officer I have seen it first hand. But why does the Governor do the smoke and mirror show and not look at some off the more pressing issues. What about our failing economy,why are company’s leaving VT at such an alarming rate. Why are we ranked as the 47 worst state to start up a business? How about keeping our young educated people in the state by working on creating jobs through a enticing business climate. These and so many more questions. His health care plan is going to cost more than half as much as the entire VT states yearly budget. Wake up people before it’s to late.

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