Commentary: Shumlin’s Peculiar Collection of “Facts” (September, 2013)

by John McClaughry

John McClaughry

“Endeavoring to sell his health care program in a Times Argus interview, Gov. Shumlin tossed out a host of peculiar factoids, some of which are simply not true. This could lead to a credibility problem.”

On September 5 Gov. Peter Shumlin gave a televised interview to Steve Pappas, editor of the Times Argus. The bulk of it dealt with the new health insurance Exchange and its scheduled successor Green Mountain Care. As usual, the governor appeared articulate and well informed.

The problem is that the information Shumlin hands out often bears only a tenuous relationship to the truth.

Shumlin offered as an important reason for moving into single payer health care the inability of hospitals to share patient data and diagnostic results. A single payer system, he said, would solve this problem.

He cited a Fletcher Allen patient who subsequently went to Dartmouth Hitchcock, which proposed to run the tests all over again because they (allegedly) couldn’t obtain the previous test results from Fletcher Allen.

But why do we need Green Mountain Care to solve this problem? In 2008, when Shumlin was Senate leader, the legislature passed a law (Act192) that authorized a Health Information Technology (HIT) plan to create “an integrated electronic health information infrastructure for the sharing of electronic health information among health care facilities, health care professionals, public and private payers, and patients.”

The legislature also levied a new tax of .199 of one percent of health insurance claims to pay for implementing the plan. Three years into this program the HIT plan required even more money, so in 2011 the legislature (many of whose members regularly intone that “health insurance is not affordable”) quadrupled the tax rate on claims, which Shumlin signed into law.

But now, five years into this program, the governor says we need a new multibillion dollar single payer plan to somehow make the providers share medical information that Vermonters have already spent millions of dollars in higher premiums to make possible.

Shumlin again invoked his mantra of “health care is a right, not a privilege”. He may believe that health care ought to be a right, but it simply is not. Even the Democratic legislature that approved Shumlin’s landmark health care bill (Act 48 of 2011) stopped short of declaring health care to be a right, describing it only a “public good” (which it also is not).

Shumlin then stated that “Americans born today are projected to live less long than their parents.” Unless somebody is projecting an asteroid impact, this is obviously false. According to the World Bank, using U.S. government data, American children born today can expect to live 78.64 years. Their parents in 1990 could expect 75.22 years; every cohort before that expected even fewer years of life.

Shumlin let loose this whopper: “American health care costs are three to four hundred times the spending of other developed countries.” Let’s assume Shumlin was referring to per person spending. According to the OECD, Americans (public and private) in 2009 spent $7,960 per person, which is two and half times the OECD average of $3,283 per person.

To get a fantastic multiplier like “three or four hundred”, one would have to match America’s total health care spending with that of with some very small developed country – say Estonia, with a population four tenths of a percent of ours.

In the same interview, on another topic, Shumlin averred that Vermont Yankee would require three hundred employees for five or six years after shutting down in October 2014; thus there would be no catastrophic “jobs cliff” in the local economy.

According to experts in nuclear plant decommissioning, the real employment number will be around three hundred during the first year after Vermont Yankee’s shutdown, and less than 100 after two years. These will mostly be guards and plumbers, not high income executives and engineers.

It’s not uncommon for politicians to play fast and loose with facts. But few play so fast and loose, with such seeming sincerity, as Peter Shumlin. This could lead to a credibility problem.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).

 

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