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 Panebaker

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