Earlier this year, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin told Vox that, for better or worse, the hopes of every advocate for single-payer health care rode on his state’s ambitious health care overhaul. Vermont would either pull off a successful transition to single-payer, and a cascade of states would follow, or it would fail, and cement the US’s enormously expensive health care system in place. “If Vermont gets single-payer health care right, which I believe we will, other states will follow,” Shumlin said. “If we screw it up, it will set back this effort for a long time.”
Last week, Shumlin waved the white flag of “We screwed it up.” He ended Vermont’s years-long effort at implementing a single-payer system. And, judging by the reaction of those now cheering the single-payer effort’s demise, it’s likely that the second half of Shumlin’s prediction — a long, cold winter for single-payer advocates — is already setting in.
Vox dove deep yesterday into the the demise of Vermont’s single-payer system. The state had always known that financing a switch to single-payer would be much trickier than simply selling a liberal state legislature on a hyper-liberal health care regime. But it was only weeks ago that the true cost of the proposed single-payer system came into focus. According to Vox, Vermont’s single-payer system would require raising an additional $2.5 billion in revenue; for context, the state currently collects $2.7 billion in taxes overall. Closing the massive gap would have required increasing state payroll taxes by 11.5 percent, and state income taxes by 9 percent.
“You’d think that, if there was any state where this could fly politically, it should have been Vermont,” Matthew Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury College, told Vox. “But in this case, the price was so big that even a state as solidly blue as Vermont wasn’t able to swallow it.”
Single-payer critics are jumping all over the Vermont effort’s collapse, and the enormous costs it laid bare. A spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business tells Politico, “If cobalt blue Vermont couldn’t find a way to make single-payer happen, then it’s very unlikely that any other state will.” And the Wall Street Journaleditorial page says the state’s reversal should cause a crisis of political faith approaching “Mikhail Gorbachev circa 1991 territory.”
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