Vermont health care reform
|Health care in the United States|
|Government Health Programs|
|Private health coverage|
|Health care reform law|
|State level reform|
|Municipal health coverage|
In 2011, the Vermont state government enacted a law functionally establishing the first state-level single-payer health care system in the United States. Green Mountain Care, established by the passage of H.202, creates a system in the state where Vermonters receive universal health care coverage as well as technological improvements to the existing system.
On December 17, 2014, Vermont Democrats abandoned their plan for universal health care, citing the taxes required of smaller businesses within the state.
In 2010, the State Legislature passed S 88 (which included provisions from Act 128), which enabled the state of Vermont to establish a commission to study different forms of health care delivery in the state. Dr. William Hsiao, a Harvard University professor of economics who was an advisor during Taiwan's transition to single-payer health care, was enlisted to design three possible options to reform Vermont's health care. Hsaio, along with Steven Kappel and Jonathan Gruber, presented the proposal to the legislature of Vermont on June 21, 2010.
The three options were laid out as follows:
- Option 1: As laid out by the requirements of Act 128, the first option would create "a government-administered and publicly financed single-payer health benefit system decoupled from employment which prohibits insurance coverage for the health services provided by this system and allows for private insurance coverage only of supplemental health services." The proposal considered this option to be the easiest path to single-payer, but was critical of the "complex and inefficient process" of proof of residency needs.
- Option 2: As laid out by the requirements of S 88, the second option would create "a public health benefit option administered by state government, which allows individuals to choose between the public option and private insurance coverage and allows for fair and robust competition among public and private plans." The commission noted that this option did not provide universal coverage on its own or the enforcement mechanism in place for any possible mandates put in place to achieve more coverage.
- Option 3: Act 128 allowed the commission to design a system that met the various principles outlined in Section 2 of the Act. The commission's design ultimately sought out an "approach to Option 3... by combining three studies to ascertain what type of universal health insurance, what methods of financing, and what type of single payer system is most likely to be politically and practically viable for Vermont."
The commission's proposal ultimately considered the third option to be "the most politically and practically viable single payer system for Vermont," noting that Vermont, "a small state with communitarian values," with its existing network of non-profit hospitals and a medical structure that had shown previous support in state intervention, would be "uniquely poised to pass universal health reform."
Following the proposal, Democratic state senator Mark Larson introduced H 202 on February 8, 2011, titled Single-Payer and Unified Health System. The bill passed the House on March 24, 2011, with 94 votes in favor and 49 against. The bill then passed the Senate on April 26, 2011, with 21 votes in favor and 9 against. The conference report legislation passed the Senate on May 3, 2011 with 21 votes in favor and 9 opposed, and the House on May 4, 2011 with 94 votes in favor and 49 against. Governor Peter Shumlin signed the bill on May 26, 2011.
Green Mountain Care
The signing of H. 202 has led to the creation of Green Mountain Care, described by Kaiser Health News as "a state-funded-and-managed insurance pool that would provide near-universal coverage to residents with the expectation that it would reduce health care spending." Governor Shumlin, in a blog post at Huffington Post, described the plan as "a single payer system" that he believed "will control health care costs, not just by cutting fees to doctors and hospitals, but by fundamentally changing the state's health care system." As of January 2013, Vermont was still working out the role of Green Mountain Care and the responsibilities of the bill. There is also still debate on how to fund the program. Dr. Hsiao, for example, had proposed an 11% payroll tax on employers, and the administration was required under Act 48 to provide a financing system in 2013.
Full implementation of Green Mountain Care could be delayed as late as 2017 due to provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed by the United States federal government in 2010. The PPACA requires the creation of a health care exchange in individual states, and the Vermont exchange, Vermont Health Benefit Exchange, would launch in 2014 per the provisions in the PPACA. To launch fully in 2017, Green Mountain Care would have to gain approval from the federal government to use federal health finances to fund the state program. Also, before Green Mountain Care is allowed to launch, state law requires Vermont to define the benefits in the program, provide a three year budget that costs less than current health care expenditures, and to acquire the federal waiver. As of April 2014, Vermont had yet to craft a bill that would address the $2 billion in extra spending necessary to fund the single-payer system.
Popular opinion and reactions
Dr. Hsiao, in his proposal, noted that "a two-thirds majority of Vermonters said that all Vermonters should be able to get the health care they need when they need it, regardless of their ability to pay even if this means that they would have to pay higher taxes and higher insurance premiums themselves." The bill was passed in the Vermont legislature on party line votes, with Democrats and Progressives in favor and Republicans against. The bill is considered the first single-payer bill to be passed on the state level, but private insurers can continue to operate in the state. Representative Larson has described Green Mountain Care's provisions as "as close as we can get [to single-payer] at the state level."
According to Leigh Tofferi, the director of government, public and community relations for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, the lack of initial specifics was causing "anxiety" to many providers. The Vermont Medical Society had no position on the bill or on single-payer in general. David Himmelstein, the founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, a single-payer advocacy group, was critical of the plan due to the ability of private insurers to operate in the state, arguing that the plan "give[s] up a significant part of the administrative savings by doing that," but agreeing that Green Mountain Care "lays the foundation" for single-payer.
In the 2014 gubernatorial election, Governor Shumlin was heavily favoured for re-election but only received a plurality of the vote, 46.4%, to Republican Scott Milne's 45.1%. The election will thus be decided by the Vermont General Assembly in January 2015. The Burlington Free Press ascribes this upset result, in part, to voters' dissatisfaction with the progress the state had made in instituting single-payer health care.
One of the problems found since the abandonment of the Vermont Health Care initiatives is questionable billing from Jonathan Gruber, who according to CNBC has come into connection because of the contract. According to a Vermont State report filed by Doug Hoffer, an invoice sent by Gruber to Vermont on December 30, 2014 for $40,000 has increased the amount of scrutiny on the billing.
- Governor abandons single-payer health care plan, yahoo.com, December 17, 2014
- S 88: An act relating to health care financing and universal access to health care in Vermont. As passed by House and Senate, 2010.
- New York Times: Health Care Abroad: Taiwan. November 3, 2009.
- Vermont Public Radio: Dr. William Hsaio on health care system reform. January 20, 2011.
- The Vermont Option: Achieving Affordable Universal Health Care. Dr. William Hsaio, Steven Kappel, Jonathan Gruber, and a team of health policy analysts, June 21, 2010.
- Project VoteSmart: H 202 - SINGLE-PAYER AND UNIFIED HEALTH SYSTEM - KEY VOTE.
- H. 202
- "Vt. Senate approves single-payer plan". Wcax.com. 2011-04-26. Retrieved 2014-12-29.
- H. 202 conference report.
- Kaiser Health News: Vermont Edges Toward Single Payer. October 2, 2011.
- Huffington Post: The Economic Urgency of Health Care Reform. August 5, 2011.
- Vermont Business Magazine: Health care committee to look at insurance subsidies, financing for single payer, role of Green Mountain Care Board. January 14, 2013.
- American Medical News: Vermont approves universal health program. May 16, 2011.
- Bloomberg: Vermont's Single-Payer Dream is Taxpayer Nightmare. April 24, 2014.
- Vox: Forget Obamacare: Vermont wants to bring single-payer to America. April 9, 2014.
- "How a two-term incumbent governor nearly lost". Burlington Free Press. November 6, 2014. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
- "Obamacare guru Gruber had 'questionable' billing: Audit". CNBC. February 25, 2015. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
- "Gruber contract memo final" (PDF). STATE OF VERMONT OFFICE OF THE STATE AUDITOR. February 23, 2015.
- "Report: Gruber May Have Overbilled VT". Local 22. February 23, 2015. Retrieved February 27, 2015.