Folding Medicare into Vermont's single payer system

Act 48 Integration Report: Green Mountain Care

Submitted by Robin J. Lunge, Director of Health Care Reform
Department of Vermont Health Access and the
Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities, and Health Care Administration
January 17, 2012

Act 48 creates Green Mountain Care, which is a publicly financed health care program delivering affordable, high-quality health care coverage to all residents of Vermont. Section 8 of No. 48 of the acts of 2011 (Act 48) calls for a report consisting of a series of studies to inform the development of Green Mountain Care.

The administrative integration of many payers will begin in the Exchange. For example, individuals eligible for Medicaid may use a web-based portal designed for the Exchange to enroll in Medicaid. The Exchange will also integrate the small group and association markets and could additionally integrate the individual market as well. Municipal employees are currently in the small group market, so their coverage would also be integrated in the Exchange.

The three payers who may not be able to be integrated into the Exchange are Medicare, state employees, and school employees.


Medicare is a federal program, paid for with all federal funds and administered entirely by the federal government. 33 V.S.A. 1824 provides that the agency of human services shall collect information to determine if an individual is eligible for Medicare in order to ensure that federal funds are utilized before state funds. Act 48 specifically provides that Green Mountain Care will not alter anyone’s Medicare benefits under Medicare. If an individual is enrolled in Medicare, he or she need not apply for or enroll in Green Mountain Care if he or she does not wish to. Act 48 allows the individual the choice to have Green Mountain Care as a secondary insurance, but does not require it. The cost of these provisions will be looked at as part of the financing study due in January 2013.


Medicare Waiver Demonstration Application

Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services

CMS conducts Medicare-waiver-only demonstrations to test innovations that have been shown to be successful in improving access and quality and/or lowering health care costs. These demonstrations may involve new benefits, fee-for-service or Medicare Advantage payment methodologies, and/or risk sharing arrangements that are not currently permitted under Medicare statute.

For more about Medicare waivers:
Legal Information Institute


Converting Successful Medicare Demonstrations into National Programs (an excellent description of the limitations of the process using the example of P4P):


By Don McCanne, MD

As states attempt to set up single payer programs, one problem that comes up is how do you move federal funds from programs such as Medicare into the state single payer system? The simple answer is, you don't, at least not without getting Congress to enact transformative legislation.

Many have suggested that all you need is a "Medicare waiver." But the Medicare waiver process is limited to small demonstrations primarily of payment innovations that are budget neutral or less, and that do not reduce benefits. They do not allow changes in the fundamentals of the Medicare program. The populations covered remain the same.

Vermont dropped "single payer" from the title of their legislation. One of the reasons is that Medicare will have to remain a separate program, even though they are making efforts to allow Green Mountain Care to serve as an additional Medigap plan, and to allow for some administrative integration within the insurance exchange.

Vermont should certainly move forward with its process, since beneficial tweaks are better than nothing at all. But the real message is that Vermont, and all of us, could have so much more if we enacted a national single payer health program.

We should not wait to see how well the state efforts and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will work. We already know. Costs will be higher. Millions will remain uninsured. Underinsurance will be the new standard. Hardship and suffering will increase.

States should try to improve their programs while they are waiting for national reform. But it's our job to see that they don't have to wait any longer than they have to. We must act now.