Moral Low Ground

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‘The Moral High Ground’: Vermont Governor Signs Single-Payer Health Care Bill

With the laudable goal of providing health insurance coverage for all residents, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill that moves toward the establishment of a single-payer health care system. The state now becomes the first in the nation to lay the groundwork for single-payer, universal health care for all, regardless of ability to pay.

The bill declares health care a public good, like public schools and emergency services, reflecting the widely-held belief in the state that health care is a basic human right.

“This law recognizes an economic and fiscal imperative,” Shumlin, a Democrat, victoriously declared. “We must control the growth in health care costs that are putting families at economic risk and making it harder for small employers to do business.”

The plan, which had already been approved by both houses of the state legislature, will establish a health benefits exchange, called Green Mountain Care, that gives consumers a choice between private insurance, state-sponsored and mutli-state insurance options. There will also be tax credits extended to Vermonters who cannot afford the high cost of insurance premiums. Green Mountain care complies with federal government mandates under the “Obamacare” health reforms of 2010.

If all goes according to plan, single-payer care will be phased in over a period of several years, with cost analyses and a waiver from the federal government necessary before the state can move forward towards providing universal coverage. If the waiver is forthcoming, Green Mountain Care could begin as soon as 2014. True single-payer care won’t be a viable option until 2017 due to an additional federal waiver the state would need to get.

But the insurance industry, ever vigilant against any threats to its bottom line, is sure to fight Vermont’s courageous and historic plan to provide health care to all its citizens.

Proponents of the plan say the current system, a fee-for-service scheme, leads to a greater emphasis on providing billable care while lessening the importance of quality or outcome of that care. Single-payer advocates also say the current system is too expensive and excludes too many people. According to Reuters, there are 47,000 uninsured and 150,000 underinsured Vermonters in a state with a population of 620,000.

Opponents of the single-payer plan are raising a red flag over the potential costs; some also decry the tax increase that will inevitably result.

But with tiny Vermont already spending $5 billion each year on health care, and with costs rising upwards of 8% a year, something had to be done. And Vermont, which has a fine record of progressive politics, seems like just the state to lead the way.

Perhaps one day, all 47 million Americans without health insurance will be able to enjoy the same rights as Vermonters are one step closer to having.

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