On December 15, Governor Peter Shumlin announced that he was pulling the plug on a Single Payer Healthcare system for Vermont. His reasoning, “The cost of that plan turned out to be enormous…. These are tax rates [11.5 percent payroll tax on all Vermont businesses, and a public premium assessment of up to 9.5 percent of individual Vermonters’ income] that I cannot responsibly support or urge the Legislature to pass. In my judgment, the potential economic disruption and risks would be too great to small businesses, working families and the state’s economy.”
It took him nearly four year to reach this conclusion, and to calculate the fact that taking over 20% of the state’s economy would cost $2.6 billion in new taxes, not $1.6 billion. Four years of great stress and uncertainty for Vermont businesses. Four years of slow economic growth and dismal job creation as we all waited for this bomb to go off.
Here is a partial breakdown of how much taxpayers spent for the Governor’s epiphany:
Hsiao Report, $250,000. UMass Report, $317,000. Jonathan Gruber, $280,000. Wakely Consulting $155,000.
Mark Larson, the Commissioner of Health Access, earned $85,848 in 2012, $105,114 in 2013, and $107,183 in 2014. (Now there’s a guy who deserves a 20% raise!) Robin Lunge, Director of Health Reform, earned $90,873 (2012), $98,585 (2013), $96,246 (2014), and Michael Costa, the Administration’s Tax Policy Director brought in specifically to figure out a single payer solution, earned $86,598 (2014).
This, of course, doesn’t consider the salaries of legislators and the Green Mountain Care Board dedicated to this debacle , the damage to (and by) Vermont Health Connect caused by designing it to be “the foundation” for single payer rather than just an insurance exchange, or the opportunity cost. Just think of how all this time and resource could have been better spent! It doesn’t consider the cost to the economy as businesses refused to hire new employees to avoid potential payroll taxes, or moved out of the state entirely.
This is especially unfortunate since the costs and irreconcilable policy conflicts were obvious to anyone who cared to look right from the beginning. One person who cared to look was EAI board member and Rutland City Treasurer, Wendy Wilton, who back in 2011 came up with similar numbers to Shumlin/Lunge/Gruber/Costa’s 2015 revelations on her own, in her free time, with Microsoft Excel and a few pots of coffee — at zero cost to the taxpayers.
At the time, Wilton was maligned by single payer advocates and elected officials. We don’t expect any apologies to Wendy, but do want to recognize and thank her for her efforts. Hindsight is 20/20, but her foresight was pretty darn near that, too. Maybe we ought to listen to her the next time the folks in Montpelier come up with some mathematically impossible, hair-brained, ideological scheme. Because, unfortunately, there always seems to be a next time…
- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org)
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Some Highlights from 2011:
Wendy Wilton Speaking to Rutland Healthcare Forum, May 2011 (Wilton comes on at 0:43)