by Rob Roper
Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock gave a rousing speech to his party faithful at the VTGOP convention on May 19th. In that speech, he alluded to his answer to healthcare reform, a free-market approach as opposed to Governor Shumlin’s government monopoly, single payer scheme.
The Vermont Press Bureau picked up on the healthcare news and ran a story titled, “Brock fine-tunes health care plan.” Here’s the problem, and it’s subtle but effective. Writer Peter Hirschfeld describes Brocks plan as a “conservative take on health care reform.” Later he paints a Brock consultant, Tarran Bragden, as “the controversial figure who helped shepherd an insurance deregulation bill through the Maine Legislature last year.” [emphasis added]
There are a couple of things to note here. One, voters do not like political labels and react negatively to them, and, two, most people are instinctively wary of controversy. So, the subtle message Hirschfeld is radiating is that Brock’s plans for Vermont are conservative and controversial. Red flag. Stay away.
Now, this would be all well, fine and fair if the Vermont Press Bureau maintained the same standards for the other side. Is Governor Shumlin’s quest for single payer ever referred to as a “liberal approach?” Was Dr. William Hsiao, the consultant who for $300,000 created the foundation for Shumlincare, ever referred to as a “controversial figure.” Surly, to do so would be accurate in both instances.
A look back through the Vermont Press Bureau’s news reports and on their blog, Vermont View/Health Care no such descriptions. (My personal favorite headline in this batch of reporting is “Political stars shine on single-payer,” a story about how Vermont’s federal delegation had pledged to fight for wavers that would help pave the way for Shumlincare. They ultimately failed.)
As for Dr. William Hsiao, the Vermont press corps on the whole never applies any potentially off-putting adjectives to him. Vermont Digger referrs to him as “Hsiao, a Harvard economist and architect of Taiwan’s single-payer system…” VPR: “Dr. William Hsiao of the Harvard School of Public Health….” Seven Days called Hsaio affectionately, “the Man with the Plan.” Perhaps the deepest genuflection to the man and his plan came from the Burlington Free Press, “Vermont can fix its health-care system by moving to a single-payer plan that would provide all residents with health coverage, end the claims chaos for doctors and cost most employers and workers less, a consultant told the Legislature on Wednesday…. Hsiao, an economist at the Harvard University School of Public Health, has helped design health-care systems for seven countries and has experience in government and health care dating back to the Nixon administration.
But Hsiao must not be controversial because his reforms in Taiwan are working so well, and Brock’s consultant Tarran Bragden must be controversial because his efforts in Maine are failing miserably. WRONG!
A recent analysis of Hsaio’s single payer system in Tiwan reveals, “a significant shortage of general medicine practitioners and a surplus of specialists…. a significant loss of community hospitals, either through closure or conversion to specialized medical facilities…. [And,] massive deficits the NHI has accumulated and is funding though debt….” If this is what Vermont has to look forward to, I’d call it controversial.
As for Bragden’s work in Maine, it’s too early to render a final verdict, but the initial returns are strong. The Maine Wire reports, “’Since the law took effect this past October, we have primarily seen the laws impact to Maine’s small group insurance market with the vast majority seeing lower premiums,’ said Joel Allumbaugh, President of the Maine Association of Health Underwriters and Health Care expert at the Maine Heritage Policy Center. ‘Now we are seeing huge progress in the individual insurance market as well, with rate decreases up to 60%, it’s a huge step forward for Maine.’”
Clearly there is a double standard at work here that Brock and his supporters will have to overcome if he’s to win the governorship in November, and the more subtle it is, the more dangerous it is.