Conservative groups push for early release of Green Mountain Care financing

Darcie Johnston

Darcie Johnston. Courtesy photo.

The Green Mountain Care Board is revamping the health care system in Vermont, and conservative groups want to know how they are going to pay for it.

More importantly, they want to know before the 2012 election.

The conservative advocacy group Vermonters for Health Care Freedom and the National Federation of Independent Businesses are petitioning the Vermont Legislature to introduce a law that will require the board to release the financing mechanism for a single-payer style plan by Sept. 15, 2012.

“We’re not going to support a system that puts further demands on the pocketbooks of Vermonters and Vermont businesses, large and small,” said Darcie Johnston, founder of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, the 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that announced the petition.

Johnston, a GOP fund-raiser, said small businesses and individuals want to know how much health care is going to cost and whether a universal health care program will be paid for through new taxes.

Under Act 48, which Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law in May, the newly-appointed Green Mountain Care Board is responsible for creating a system that will provide universal health care to all Vermont residents. The act states that every Vermonter should be eligible for care through a single payment system. The act mandates that the Green Mountain Care Board develop a benefit package for health care recipients and an expenditure analysis for the state.

Proponents of the plan claim it will save administrative costs and be cheaper than the current array of insurance companies. Opponents, like Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, fear the plan will increase taxes and result in lower quality health care outcomes.

Once the board completes its research, the state secretary of administration, Jeb Spaulding, will submit financing plans to the House committees on health care and ways and means and the Senate committees on health and welfare and finance. The deadline for these plans is Jan. 15, 2013.

That date, however, is not soon enough for Republicans.

Vermont GOP Chair Pat McDonald said Republicans are interested in doing exactly what the Vermonters for Health Care Freedom petitions says: move up the financing plan deadline four months, just in time for election season.

“We want people to go to the polls with the right information,” McDonald said. “The more information you give voters, the more informed they are to make the right decision.”

On a more fundamental level, McDonald said her party is concerned that a single-payer system will not work in the state. She said it is a complicated issue, and the GOP wants to see more information about specific facts like: who will be covered, what will be covered, who will pay for the system and how costs will be contained.

Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, disagrees that a single-payer system will cause a hardship for small businesses. Fisher is the chair of the House Committee on Health Care, and he says the status quo is “bankrupting us on every level.”

“We can’t afford not to reform health care,” Fisher said.

Fisher said a large segment of the business community cannot afford to plan for health care costs the way they are.

According to a report by the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, health care spending for Vermonters rose 7.6 percent in 2009, compared to 5.7 percent nationwide. For that same time period, private payers (including worker’s compensation, self-insured individuals and private commercial plans) paid for 37 percent of those costs—slightly less than the national average.

Fisher said a lot of what the Green Mountain Care Board will be doing is reducing health care costs overall and doing away with a lot of waste. He said he hopes the process will be able to engage people from all perspectives as the Green Mountain Care Board works out the details of the new system.

Anya Rader Wallack, chair of the Green Mountain Care Board, said the plan is to reduce costs. She said she will be conducting a full vetting of the financing plan submitted by the secretary of administration, and there will not be any surprises.

Wallack said one of the board’s goals is to make health care more affordable for small businesses that pay for the health care of their employees. She said right now small businesses have an amount of certainty that insurance rates will increase between 6 percent and 8 percent each year.

“The certainty that they have is an unsustainable health care cost picture,” Wallack said. “Our job is to come up with a plan to improve that picture.”

Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, a practicing physician, also expressed some concerns about the process for creating the new universal health care system in the Vermont Medical Society’s newsletter. Till, an advocate for universal coverage, explained in the newsletter that he would prefer a method of first developing a sound financial model, then testing it to make sure it works. He noted that medical providers would prefer knowing how much they would be reimbursed at the beginning of the process rather than in 2013. Till was unavailable to comment for this story.

As part of the financing plan, the secretary of administration also must consult with health care professionals, employers and the public to determine impacts on businesses and the state economy in general. The deadline for this research is February 2012.

Alan PanebakerAlan Panebaker

Comments

  1. Doug Hoffer :

    According to BISHCA, health care expenditures almost doubled during Jim Douglas’ tenure as governor. Other than simplistic calls for letting the market decide, where were the Republicans as health care costs came to represent almost 20% of the gross state product (and more than the state’s entire budget)?

    And btw – The concern about new taxes might be more compelling if such taxes weren’t coupled with the elimination of premiums. Odd how the VHCF never mentions that.

  2. David Schoales :

    More partisan crap. These people don’t care about the health of Vermonters- they just want a political advantage. We have terrific people, including a retired hospital administrator, working on models for reducing costs. I wish Ms. Johnson and her nattering nabobs of negativity would just get out of the way and give this process a chance to work.

  3. Ross Laffan :

    “We’re not going to support a system that puts further demands on the pocketbooks of Vermonters and Vermont businesses, large and small,” said Darcie Johnston, founder of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, the 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that announced the petition.”

    I’d be willing to bet that everyone involved in VHCF is comfortably insured. They should do without for a while and then decide.

  4. Craig Powers :

    Why is it so hard for the proponents of single payer to simply explain a financing mechanism? Because they simply cannot do it without scaring existing businesses and potential new businesses that might want to come here! To even suggest a government takeover of healthcare is irresponsible without a plan to finance it. What are you scared of. Why do you react so negatively to any challenge to your Progressive views?

    Given the typical progressive nature of the VT tax system, the libs/progressive/dems will figure out a way to take more money from the people actually working (those damn rich people) and growing their businesses in VT to pay for this massive program. Look at the statistics related to the imbalance in the VT property tax system. 70% of VT households pay very little, OR NONE. Boy, that is fair and equitable. Now you want more!

    Some people posting to this board inflect pure emotion into the argument, which is not appropriate when considering the ramifications of this new entitlement program. Please take the emotion out of it and provide the public with some hard facts about the sustainability and unintended consequences that this program will create.

  5. Dan McCauliffe :

    Here is a link to Dr. George Till’s comments. He voted for the VT health care reform law.
    http://www.vtmd.org/sites/default/files/files/September%202011%20Newsletter.pdf

    “I think physicians, especially those in private practice like all employers, are very troubled by the delay until January 2013 of proposing a financing plan for the system. The delays are not necessary but are political in nature. The exact price tag can’t be known, but that is always true in state budgeting. That is why we do a budget adjustment bill every single year. However, what part of the new system will be financed through payroll tax, what part through income tax, what part through new and expanded consumption taxes, what other funding sources will be included does not require waiting until 2013. The delay causes unnecessary uncertainty which neither businesses nor physicians like.”

  6. Wendy Wilton :

    “According to a report by the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, health care spending for Vermonters rose 7.6 percent in 2009, compared to 5.7 percent nationwide.”

    Why did Vermont’s health care spending outstrip the US average? Three reasons: political, demographic and economic…During the 2000’s the legislature expanded Medicaid benefits, which increased the costs overall and increased the cost shift. The demographics of our state continue to become older and this increases utilization of health care. Re: economics, VT is projected to have a minus 0.7% job growth projection, a downgrade from +1% growth a few months ago by Moody’s–one of the few states to get a negative growth assessment. Here’s the link:
    http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/story/Jobs-Forecast-2011/34083932/1

    One of the fundamental fiscal questions I have about a single payer solution is: Where does the cost shift go?
    Now I realize it must be borne by the system, but how that will happen is the question. It must be either in increasing funding to cover the shortfall, or in reducing services (utilization). This also will be a huge challenge in a state that has a high percentage of older people.

  7. Doug Hoffer :

    Ms. Wilton said, “VT is projected to have a minus 0.7% job growth projection, a downgrade from +1% growth a few months ago by Moody’s–one of the few states to get a negative growth assessment.”

    First, this assessment is at odds with the Vermont consensus forecast by Jeff Carr and Tom Kavet for the Governor and the legislature.
    http://www.leg.state.vt.us/JFO/state_forecasts/2011-07%20July%20Forecast.pdf
    And it’s also at odds with recent job data from the VT Dept. of Labor.

    Second, healthcare reform cannot be implemented for at least three or four years (likely more) so employment estimates for the coming year are irrelevant for an analysis of financing options.

  8. walter carpenter :

    One thing that businesses, large and small, is that health care premiums will rise this year, next year, the year after….always rising. They are now at unsustainable levels, with less coverage for the bucks paid, so many thousands of Vermonters uninsured and underinsured, nice six and seven figure salaries for the CEO’s, and will only get more unsustainable. We need to pay the health care CEO’s even more, while health care still is still the leading cause of personal bankruptcies.

    As Doug said above “The concern about new taxes might be more compelling if such taxes weren’t coupled with the elimination of premiums.” This is the key point. In whatever financing mechanisms that get worked out after the program is designed, these unsustainable premiums will be gone, as will those six and seven figure salaries for health care ceo’s that we have to support now.

  9. walter carpenter :

    ach, typo…”one thing that businesses can count on….

  10. Linda Quackenbush :

    The State of Vermont is business unfriendly and actually strives to make any small business to go insolvent. The Legislators and lobbyists have the power to legislate and legitimize any legislation because they “rule” the state not the PEOPLE! There will come a time when Vermont runs out of money and all their elite crony capitalism will come tumbling down…Ouch!

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