Vermont governor to create single-payer healthcare

Peter Shumlin, the newly elected governor of Vermont, ran on single-payer healthcare and he plans to deliver. For sure, there are hurdles to clear, like getting a waiver to opt out of the federally mandated health insurance program, but he’s convinced he can pull it off. He’s also convinced single-payer is essential for the economic health of his state. The following are excerpts from his January 21st interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

I was elected governor to create jobs and to ensure that Vermonters have a better and more hopeful economic future. The biggest challenge for business in Vermont, or one of them, is the rising cost of healthcare. And I think what we want to do here in Vermont is to create a single pool, much like General Motors, Ford, Oracle, ensure that healthcare is a right and not a privilege, and use technology and other methods to contain cost. We want to have universal access. We want to be the first state where health insurance follows the individual and is not a requirement of the employer—I think that will be a huge jobs creator

Not wasting any time, Shumlin mentions that he has already spoken with Secretary Sebelieus and President Obama about his plans for a single-payer system. He needs to find a way to get a waiver so Vermont can opt out of federally mandated health insurance. President Obama was supportive of his efforts, telling him that “We want the states to be laboratories of change,” which is quite an encouraging statement. Canada achieved universal single payer healthcare one province at a time, so perhaps President Obama sees the United States achieving it in the same fashion.

The current system in America is unaffordable. I think Democrats and Republicans can agree on that. If we stay on the current course, we will be spending the lion’s share of our income on healthcare. It will bankrupt our businesses. It puts us at a competitive disadvantage with all of the other countries that have figured this out.

My vision is that if Vermont can get this right, the other states will follow. Now, I’ve spoken with the President. We work together with our congressional delegation, with Secretary Sebelius. We need some waivers to make this happen. And what they’re saying is, “As long as you’re not lowering standards,” which we’re not, “we want to work with you. We want the states to be laboratories for change.” So, it’s an ambitious goal. We understand the land mines that lie out there, the special interests and the folks who are profiteering from our healthcare system, but we’re going to give it our best shot and try, lead the country.

Vermont is already more enlightened and ahead of the game when it comes to health care. For example, it insures all children and every adult below 300% percent of poverty, which is quite generous. Shumlin sees the big challenge of a single payer system as cost containment

My challenge is this: it’s about cost. And I have watched some of the most capable politicians in America, from President Obama, President Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean here in Vermont, both on a state and federal level, fail in designing a system that contains cost. That is what drags us down. I believe Vermont can be the first state in the country that shows how to get cost containment right.

Amy Goodman asked Governor Shumlin about Blue-Cross-Blue-Shield, the biggest health insurer in Vermont, wanting to administer single payer for the state when it happens. A Blue-Cross executive was reported as saying, “If there’s a single payer system, we’d like to be the single payer.”

Well, he’s a smart insurance executive, and he’s got it right. Listen, here’s why we can do this in Vermont, why we have a better shot than perhaps anywhere else in America. Today is the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend unlimited cash to influence our elections. What is different about Vermont is that our legislators are not in the pockets of special interests; they’re in the pockets of their constituents. Now, there’s a very simple reason for that. I was president of the Senate. My last campaign cost $2,500. My counterpart in New York’s campaign, the president of the Senate just across the lake, probably cost multiple millions of dollars. My point is, we have a citizen legislature in the state. We are not beholden to the special interests. We fight for our constituents in their best interest. And frankly, our insurance companies are smart enough to know that. So, I think that—you know, we all know that what’s destroying democracy is the extraordinary influence of corporate money. The folks that are making money off the system then elect the politicians that make the decisions about their economic future. So we have a real opportunity here, and I think our insurance companies are smart enough to see that we’re going to make progress, and they want to be the company that has the single payer.

It appears Vermont could be the first state to achieve single-payer healthcare, hopefully the first of many. And Democrat Peter Shumlin sounds like the person to make it happen.