Gov.-elect Shumlin: ‘I am convinced that Vermont has an opportunity to pass a single-payer health care system’

Green Mountain Daily, Nov. 10, 2010
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin of Vermont conducted by a blogger at Green Mountain Daily (GMD).
GMD: You made some big commitments on health care, and I think you've got a strong reservoir of trust in the progressive community on that issue. But what should reformers expectations really be over the first term?
Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin: Well, we're going to get Dr. [William] Hsiao's work back shortly. I'm going to start assembling in the next few weeks a team of people – I abhor ribbon commissions because they just sit on shelves collecting dust. What I do like is a group of really informed people that can sit around and chart an ambitious course. I'll be putting that group together. I am convinced that Vermont has an opportunity to pass a single-payer health care system that does three things. First, that contains costs so that we're not spending a million dollars a day than we were before. Second, where health care follows the individual and is not a requirement of the employer. And third, where health care is a right, not a privilege. They're the sort of principles that I go into this with.
Now, I got a lot of criticism during the campaign by Brian [Dubie, the GOP candidate] and frankly a lot of the Democrats over the primary saying, “He's overpromising more than can be delivered.” And what I've said about this health care vision is this is not a promise, it’s a plan. My promise is that I will work as hard as I can over the next two years to make this happen as quickly as I can. I understand the obstacles. Some people see the federal waivers. My own view is that the federal waivers are the easy part. I think the hard part is designing a system that actually works, and bringing together the players and getting them to agree to change, and making it fast enough so that we don’t bankrupt the state, see more and more people lose their health insurance because they cant afford it, keeping the middle class from continually being [inaudible], and most importantly, keep our providers alive. You know, we're in crisis. We're losing our primary care providers in Vermont. We're losing many of our health care providers. Our hospitals are on the brink because of this crazy reimbursement system. Because all the money we're spending chasing money around, and because of a lack of technology and efficiency in the system. So – it’s a very ambitious goal, I get that, but I'm going to work as diligently as I can with as many people as we can and get it done.
I think that – let’s put it this way: part of the economic opportunity I'm talking about in terms of infrastructure is cracking this nut. If we can be the state where health insurance follows the individual, where it’s affordable, and where everybody's covered. And where we're sharing, using technology to reduce costs. Getting rid of the waste – the percentage for insurance companies and bureaucracy – we beat the other 49 states to jobs, because that is the single biggest challenge. Small business, middle class families – how do we afford the health care increases, 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent a year? It's just not sustainable.
GMD: As far as the waivers go, you've got some of this wave around the country of Republican governors that got in. I was just hearing Rick Perry in Texas – arch-conservative – saying the same sort of thing, you know, they want waivers for Medicare so they can do their own thing. Obviously their own thing is going to be very different, but do you see some potential for maybe getting together on that?
Shumlin: I do. I've already talked to [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius about this. I had the pleasure of having a conversation with the president of the United States, told him I was going to be looking for three waivers. You know, we just – all I'm saying is I don’t think the waivers are the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge is designing a system, getting consensus on a system, and passing it.