Newsletter – May 11, 2012

Here are the most interesting articles and opinion pieces from VHCF and others regarding Vermont’s single payer health care experiment from the week ending May 11, 2012

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom

Shumlin Official Bails on Health Care Forum in Manchester

For several months a group of business people in the Manchester area have been organizing a health care reform forum that will be held at the Manchester Elementary School this Saturday, May 12th between 10:00 A.M. and noon. Confirmed speakers were Steve Kimbell, Commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation; Peter Sterling, founding Executive Director of the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security Education Fund; Wendy Wilton, Rutland City Treasurer, Jerry Stein, MD, and Dan McCauliffe, MD.

Three days before the event Kimbell informed the event’s lead organizer, Phil Arbolino, that he and Sterling would not appear unless Wilton was removed from the panel. Arbolino refused to bump Wilton so Kimbell said that he and Sterling would not appear.

According to Arbolino, Kimbell’s reason for demanding that Wilton be banned was the soft announcement that she intended to run for State Treasurer as a Republican (a formal announcement is expected Monday). Kimbell and Sterling support Green Mountain Care, and Wilton, Stein and McCauliffe are critical. Wilton has not opposed single payer, but has produced a financial analysis that challenges the state’s assumption that Vermont can afford GMC. Neither Kimbell nor any other state official has released the Shumlin Administration’s financial analysis of GMC.

Arbolino said Kimbell objected to Wilton “using the forum to ‘bash’ the economics of GMC.” Arbolino pointed out that Kimbell has previously appeared with Wilton, and in every case she has been highly critical of the plan – did he expect anything different on Saturday?

Finally, according to Arbolino, Kimbell described his appearance with Sterling as a “package deal,” meaning if Kimbell was out, so was Sterling. Sterling’s group does some good work assisting Vermonters in need of Medicaid, VHAP or Catamount health coverage, but they are not agents of the state. Indeed, they are advocates for single payer health care in Vermont and count among their founding organizations the Vermont NEA, America’s Agenda: Health Care for All and the Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health, all strong advocates for single payer. It is curious that Commissioner Kimbell apparently speaks for and sets the calendar for the executive director of this organization.

Kimbell is one of the point people in the Shumlin Administration responsible for crafting the budget and funding plan for Green Mountain Care. Prior efforts to dismiss or silence Wilton’s analysis have had little effect, given that it is the only analysis anyone has released for public review, and thus far has not been proven to contain any fatal flaws.

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom is a co-sponsor of the Manchester forum.

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Statewide Public Hearing on Green Mountain Care, Thursday May 31st 

The Administration and the Green Mountain Care Board will jointly host a public hearing on May 31st, 2012, from 3:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m. This hearing is open to the public. Reservations for testimony are being taken and filling up fast so please follow the guidance below and reserve a slot to let the state know what you think of the direction, scope and pace of health care reform in Vermont. This may be the best (or only) opportunity to tell the Shumlin Administration and Green Mountain Care Board what you think about their race to implement government monopoly single payer health care program.

The hearing will be held using Vermont Interactive Technologies video-conferencing. Individuals can attend the hearing at one of 11 sites around the state (see below). It will begin with a brief presentation to be followed by public testimony. Healthcare providers and patient advocates are requested to offer thier perspective on benefit design and benefits that should be included in the single payer plan.

Each individual wishing to speak will be given a set amount of time depending on attendance. Please e-mail SOV.HCR@state.vt.us or call Marisa Melamed at 802-828-2316 to sign up in advance. Those who sign up by May 24th will be given preference for the timeframe they would like to speak in. People will also be allowed to sign up when they arrive but reservations will be honored first.

When you call or write please indicate:

1) Your name

2) The VIT site you plan to attend

3) Your title or affiliation, if applicable; and

4) The best time for you to speak between 3:30 and 7:00 p.m. on May 31st.

The public hearing will be held at the following VIT Studios. Please visit the VIT Website for directions.

Bennington, Brattleboro, Lyndonville, Middlebury, Montpelier, Newport, Rutland, Springfield, St. Albans, White River Junction, Williston

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‘Listening Sessions’ Continue; Only Administration Officials Allowed to Speak

The Agency of Administration’s Green Mountain Care benefits design ‘listening sessions’ made a stop in Rutland this week, following the same format used in previous stops. A presentation of the Green Mountain Care single-payer plan is provided, followed by two small group exercises. The presentation was confined to all the major decisions already made with minimal public input or consultation, and the exercises are designed to be confined to the details yet to be worked out. Many in attendance nonetheless use the opportunity to question why the state was racing ahead with implementation while we still have not seen a budget or a financing plan. The “hopes and fears” exercise raised a plethora of fears – and no answers – and the discussions were confined to small groups and memorialized on 4 x 6 inch cards. See the story above for a better opportunity to have your say on May 31.

Future ‘listening sessions’ are scheduled as follows. Visit the VHCF calendar for meetings and events around the state: http://vthealthcarefreedom.org/calendar

June 7: St. Johnsbury, Catamount Arts, 6:00 – 10:00 p.m.

June 13: Bennington, Firehouse, 130 River St, 6:00 – 10:00 p.m.

June 20: White River Junction, Hartford High School, 37 Highland Ave, 6:00 – 10:00 p.m.

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State Surveying 50 Small Businesses on Plans for Vermont Health Care Exchange

A marketing research firm based in Portsmouth, NH, is conducting a telephone survey of 50 Vermont small businesses concerning their preferences under Vermont’s recently enacted health benefits exchange. The businesses all have 50 or fewer employees and are therefore among the first group, starting January 1, 2014, to be forced to drop their current health care plans and purchase a plan from among the yet-to-be determined but limited offerings in the exchange.

Interviews with two of the business owners who participated in the survey expressed frustration with the structure of the survey. “The answers I was allowed to give were very, very limited,” one CEO stated. “The questions were highly structured and the only response allowed was varying degrees of ‘favorable’ or ‘unfavorable.’ They never gave me the opportunity to offer a ‘most favorable’ option, which in my case would be to allow me to keep my current plan.”

The survey interviewer reportedly did not explain the situation starting in 2014 in sufficient detail, nor did he explain anything about Green Mountain Care which is soon to follow. No mention of the need for some form of very large payroll or other business tax starting no later than 2017 was offered.

Both CEOs asked whether their comments and objections would be recorded and made available in the survey report. Both were told that their comments would be summarized and provided to the Administration officials who commissioned the survey. When asked whether the comments and objections would be part of the document that is ultimately released to the public the interviewer said that decision was up to the Shumlin Administration.

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As Vermont Goes, so Goes Oregon

At least as far as reliance on Obamacare’s largesse is concerned. Heartlander published an article explaining that Oregon has invested $49 million of federal taxpayers’ funds to set up their exchange, and will rely heavily upon the hundreds of millions expected to follow to help fund health care reform plans there. We note that Oregon did not outlaw private insurance outside the exchange, as was done only in Vermont.

Rocky King, executive director of the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange, acknowledged that the demise of Obamacare at the hands of the Supreme Court would jeopardize the exchange’s future and could undermine their plans.

““One of the things that the federal law provided was federal development and operation subsidies, and significant federal subsidies through the exchange,” King said. “In the absence of those federal dollars, given the economic environment in Oregon, it would be very difficult to move forward…””

Eric Fruits, president of Economics International Corp., an Oregon-based consulting firm, says Oregon is going ahead with its exchange no matter what happens to ObamaCare. The Supreme Court case will just decide who pays for it…

“Without federal money, they would be looking at a substantial payroll tax to fund the plan, but I don’t think there would be enough support for this, especially since they already played that game with the insurance provider tax and hospital tax to fund CHIP,” Fruits explained.”

The full article can be read here: http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2012/05/08/oregon-gambles-supreme-court-upholding-obamacare