Shumlin appoints political aide to chair Green Mountain Care Board

by Rob Roper

The massive search has come to an end. After the call went out nationwide for the resumes of the most talented healthcare minds the world can offer, Governor Peter Shumlin finally found the person he thinks is best qualified to lead the powerful five member Green Mountain Care Board.

May we have the envelope?… Drum roll please… It is… his own Special Assistant to the Governor, Anya Rader Wallack.

It turns out the global search never left the Fifth floor of the Pavillion building in Montpelier. Opponents of a single payer approach are not exactly surprised at the political nature of Shumlin’s appointment, but do see problems with it.

Senator Randy Brock (R-Franklin) said, “To gain the confidence of Vermonters, the leadership of the Green Mountain Care Board must be perceived as objective, independent and non-partisan.”

At one point, Rader Wallack seemed to agree. Back in January, she described the position as something that should be, “independent, apolitical, but allows people to see what’s going on in the process.”

But, Brock continued, “Unfortunately, the Governor chose to appoint his close confident, the person most responsible for designing and promoting his Single Payer plan. It is inconceivable that a person so closely identified with the Governor’s plan would be in a position to objectively evaluate whether or not we should go forward toward implementation.”

Indeed, the governor has promised that, “We will only go ahead with Green Mountain Care if we’re convinced together as a state, that the system is better than what we have, that it cost less, it’s going to help create jobs, and we’ve got the cost containment system right. If we can’t do that, we’ll take our marbles and go home.” It’s a nice sound bite designed to give comfort to the many businesses worried about massive new costs, but it’s hard to imagine any situation in which Wallack, who already has so much invested in this plan, would ever recommend gathering up the marbles – her job, it’s worth mentioning, being one of those marbles.

Rutland City Treasurer Wendy Wilton, who has been analyzing the potential costs of Green Mountain Care for the past several months also had concerns with the political nature of Wallack’s appointint. “I believe there are two issues with thisappointment: First, I feel the Chair should be someone with extensive public health credentials. Anya has a great deal of political policy involvement in healthcare, but not necessary public health research and policy development. Second, her appointment demonstrates the shear will and desire of the administration to have control of the outcome. Together, I believe this means the solution will likely be a political solution despite assurances to the contrary.”

Representative Vicki Strong (R-Albany) sat on the committee that recommended candidates to Governor Shumlin for consideration. At the time Wallack’s name was first tossed into the ring, Strong was outspoken in opposition to the idea for many of the same reasons outlined above, but has since softened her stance.

Now Strong has, “Mixed feelings about it.” She still believes it was a cravenly political move, but, “If the shoe was on the other foot and Republicans were in the majority, we might have done something similar.” About the entire board and its mission, Strong commented, “There are good, smart people on the board, but I don’t think that government can solve the problem.”

Darcie Johnston of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom saw the Wallack appointment as, “Totally expected.” However, she sees problems with other members of the board. “My real concern lies with the two physicians [Alan Ramsay, MD and Karen Hein, MD], because they clearly come from academia… But, as [Dr. William] Hsiao’s report shows us, what academia can design doesn’t necessarily work in the real world.”

Johnston wants to be sure everyone remembers and understands just how huge the scope of what this board is tasked with doing is, and how intrusive it will be into our lives.

“The decisions these five people make will impact every doctor’s office in Vermont, every hospital in Vermont, every business in Vermont, and every family in Vermont,” said Johnston in a press release. “These five people will determine how much Vermont’s doctors get paid for treating us. These five people will determine how much Vermont’s hospitals can spend, and what new service they can provide. These five people will determine how much Vermont’s employers, from mom-and-pop stores to big businesses and even cash-strapped non-profits, must spend on health care, whether they can afford it or not. Perhaps most importantly, these five people will decide how much health care coverage Vermonters have: what services are covered, and which are not.”

“The fate of Vermont’s health care system, and the fate of our state’s entire economy, is now in the hands of these five individuals. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope they’re up to the task.”

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The five members of the Green Mountain Health Care Board are:

Anya Rader Wallack, Ph.D. of Calais Chair

Al Gobeille of Shelburne

Karen Hein, MD of Jacksonville

Con Hogan of Plainfield

Alan Ramsay, MD of Essex Junction

For full bios, click HERE.