Ready for Single-Payer

By Josh Hoxie
The Defender, Guest Columnist
February 8, 2011

With the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act last spring, those of us graduating in May won’t have to include losing health insurance on our long list of life-altering changes.

Thanks to the federal legislation, young people may now stay on their parents’ health insurance coverage up to age 26. This is one of the many benefits in the bill conservatives call “Obamacare.”

Less than a year later, the newly elected Republican majority in the House of Representatives has sworn to overturn the landmark legislation as part of a host of conservative initiatives.

Meanwhile, here in Vermont, legislators are primed to do just the opposite: expand health care coverage to all Vermonters in a single-payer system.

Single-payer health care is the talk of the town in the wake of the presentation to legislators by William Hsiao, the Harvard economist tasked with devising a plan for reforming Vermont’s health care system. Single-payer would bring all Vermonters into one system, eliminating the mountains of administrative cost that clog up our current patchwork of private and public insurance companies.

Momentum is building in favor of single-payer reform. Hsiao, known for developing Taiwan’s impressive universal healthcare system, advocates for single-payer in his report claiming that increased costs of covering more people could be offset by reducing inefficiency and administrative costs.

Newly elected Gov. Peter Shumlin endorsed single-payer reform during the campaign and has continued to show his support for major legislative reform. This is key as single-payer legislation cleared the House and Senate in 2005 only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jim Douglas.

If reform were to pass, Vermont would require a waiver from the federal government to fold Medicare and Medicaid into the single-payer system. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has already introduced a bill in the Senate to do this with the support of Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch.

The Hsiao report applauds Vermont’s low rate of uninsured and high quality of care, claiming “Vermont’s health system is one of the best in the United States,” but also outlines the need for significant action as he claims the system is “unmanageable and at risk of crisis.”

In the wake of Hsiao’s presentation, over three dozen medical professionals descended on the statehouse in Montpelier Jan. 27 to tell legislators to pass single-payer health reform.

Each one had a story about a patient who was negatively affected by the current system.
Of course, the devil is in the details, which are being hashed out in closed-door sessions by lawmakers in Montpelier.

Single-payer advocates are gearing up for a showdown with lobbyists from drug companies and insurance companies who seek to maintain the inefficiencies they profit from. .

If a bill is proposed this legislative session, we may see landmark legislation for universal health coverage pass by May of this year. By the time seniors graduate, those sticking around Vermont may no longer have to worry about ever going uninsured.