Many are watching Vermont as it moves toward the nation’s first single-payer health care system.
On Wednesday, the woman who has led the Shumlin administration’s health care overhaul for the past two years announced that she’s leaving state government at a critical juncture for the effort.
Anya Rader Wallack said she’s stepping down from her post as chairwoman of the five-member Green Mountain Care Board to be closer to her family in Rhode Island.
"To do a job like this is an incredible challenge, and to be a good spouse and be a good parent is an incredible challenge. And to do that with your family five hours away and seeing them every two or three weeks is more than a challenge – it’s just impossible," said Rader Wallack, who was emotional as she stood in the governor’s Statehouse office with Vermont’s health care leaders.
Rader Wallack joined the governor’s senior staff when he first took office two years ago. Since then, she’s been the public face of the Green Mountain Care Board – the panel charged with developing policies that might slow down the rising cost of health care in Vermont. The board, ultimately, is responsible for moving the state to a single-payer system.
Rader Wallack’s decision to leave comes as the state is poised to implement health exchanges under the national health law, known as Obamacare. Governor Shumlin said approval of those rates under the exchange will be a big milestone on the way to his ultimate goal.
"We’re on track to deliver the larger and – I would argue – more important goal of single-payer health care by 2017 where we’re spending less money for better outcomes," Shumlin said shortly before announcing Rader Wallack’s resignation.
In the first year, the Shumlin administration estimates 110,000 Vermonters could tap into the health care exchange, which is expected to go online in October. Still, Shumlin was disappointed with Rader Wallack’s decision, though he says it won’t be a setback.
"Anya is absolutely one of the great leaders in this nation in health care reform and it’s been an extraordinary privilege to have her working with us to deliver the first thoughtful single-payer health care system in America," he said.
In Vermont, there’s been only muted public criticism of the single-payer plan and the health care exchange. But some Republican state lawmakers and business leaders have wondered whether it’s all coming too fast.
"We’ve been concerned about that from the onset," said House Minority Leader Don Turner, pointing out that Rayder Wallack’s resignation only adds to his reservations.
"She was really the mastermind from my perspective," Turner said, standing in the empty House chamber. "I watched how this all worked out and she was the one leading the charge in the Legislature. She had the experience and the vision to move this forward, and if she’s stepping down that raises an additional amount of concern from my perspective and I’m sure for many of my caucus members."
Both opponents and critics agree on one thing: the passion for reform that Rader Wallack conveyed to the Legislature will be hard to replace. For now, Shumlin and House and Senate leaders have recommended the board appoint Al Gobbeille, a business leader who has served on the board, as its new chairman.