Vermont Delegation Will Seek Path To Single-Payer Health Care Reform

By Bob Kinzel for Vermont Public Radio

(Host) Vermont’s Congressional delegation is pledging to work together to make it easier for the Shumlin Administration to implement a single payer health care plan.

The goal is to make it possible for Vermont to seek a waiver from the federal government for a single payer plan in 2014.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) It’s very unusual for all 3 members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation to make a joint appearance at the Statehouse.

But senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch, joined Governor Peter Shumlin, to show their unity in passing legislation to help the state implement a single payer health care system.

Under the new federal health care law, states cannot apply for a waiver to put their own system in place until 2017.

The legislation would move that date up to 2014 – a time when most of the major provisions of the new law take effect.

Congressman Welch says the change is needed to allow states to experiment with new approaches to health care.

(Welch) “Why not let the states achieve the goals of more affordable care, better access, in ways that those states find the best way to get from here to there? So, it’s a states’ rights argument and what we have seen is that the states often have been the ones that have been the leaders.”

(Kinzel) The delegation announced their plan on the same day the U.S. House started its debate on a bill to repeal the new health care law. Senator Sanders thinks opponents of the law will support Vermont’s approach.

(Sanders) “The reason that some of our more conservative friends want to repeal the health care reform bill is because they don’t like the federal government. They don’t trust the federal government taking on this responsibility. Well if that is your position what we are saying is ‘ok give the state of Vermont, and not just the state of Vermont, give other states the flexibility.”

(Kinzel) Senator Leahy says the waiver would allow Vermont to serve as a model for a single payer health care system.

(Leahy) “I think a lot of people respect the fact that Vermont can be very innovative. We’re 650,000 people – it’s a lot easier to check whether something works here.”

(Kinzel) One key challenge of moving to a single payer system involves large companies that self insure their employees’ health coverage. These are known as federal ERISA plans. Governor Shumlin is hoping that Vermont can also receive a waiver to include these programs in the state’s single payer system:

(Shumlin) “We would very much like to have an ERISA exemption. Hawaii is the only state in the country that currently has an ERISA exemption, we figure if it’s good enough for Hawaii it would be great for Vermont. But we do not need an ERISA exemption to succeed, although it would be helpful.”

(Kinzel) Much of the work on health care this session will be guided by the recommendations of the Legislature’s special health care consultant, Dr. William Hsiao. His report will be released Wednesday morning.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.