MONTPELIER — House Republicans last week accused the Shumlin administration of violating state statute by failing to say what tax it would use to fund single-payer health care. But Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding has brushed back the GOP’s attempts at law enforcement, saying no financing plan will be forthcoming. Republicans pounced last month when a long-awaited report on single-payer health care failed to include the financing “recommendation” mandated by statute. In a letter to Spaulding, House Minority Leader Don Turner demanded that the administration produce a plan to raise the $1.6 billion in public financing the report says will be needed to support the universal system.
In his reply to Turner, Spaulding says the report is “consistent” with Act 48 — the 2010 law that set a deadline of Jan. 15, 2013, for a financing recommendation.
“The report documents … that we can cover all Vermonters with a comprehensive benefit package and still save significant sums for our citizens,” Spaulding wrote. “The report also provides a menu of options for financing to facilitate the discussion moving forward.”
Spaulding said that when Act 48 passed, “the circumstances were different than they are today.” Notably, he said, the federal Affordable Care Act at that point held out hope for the possibility of waivers that would allow single-payer to begin as early as 2014.
“This was the legislative context within which Act 48 was passed,” Spaulding said in the letter. “Congress, however, did not act on this proposal.”
As a result, Spaulding said, Vermont won’t be able to institute single-payer until 2017 at the earliest.
Turner said he appreciated Spaulding’s prompt response but that he was dismayed by its contents. “He’s basically offering excuses for why he doesn’t think the law is applicable anymore, instead of just complying with it,” Turner said.
Spaulding last week dismissed Turner’s news conference — at which he announced he would send the letter to Spaulding — as a “stunt” designed to thwart progress toward universal health care.
He used more diplomatic language in his official reply.
“Although those who do not favor moving to (single-payer) can be expected to raise criticisms along the way, the administration is focused on ensuring the Legislature and all Vermonters have a thoughtful opportunity to discuss the potential impacts of the various financing sources on Vermont businesses and on the state’s economy,” Spaulding wrote.
Turner, though, said Vermont can’t engage in a fruitful discussion about single-payer until Gov. Peter Shumlin tells Vermonters how he wants to pay for it.
“Look, they have an idea of what they want to do, obviously,” Turner said. “And until they begin to provide some answers to what I think are really reasonable questions, there’s going to be an enormous amount of fear and uncertainty, and that’s going to be really challenging for businesses.”
Turner said he’s consulting lawyers to determine the GOP’s course of action.
“We just want to get the information that the law ensured we were going to have,” Turner said. “How we do that I’m not sure yet, but we’re going to keep trying.”
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