Single Payer Foes Say Payroll, Income Taxes Considered In Financing Plan

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Critics of Governor Peter Shumlin’s plans for a single payer health system charge his administration studied how to pay for it, but then halted the work.

The group Vermonters for Health Care Freedom alleges the administration looked at a financing plan based on new taxes but then stopped because of political concerns.

The group obtained more than 1,600 pages of public records to make its case that the Shumlin Administration hasn’t provided enough information on the health care financing issue.

Jeff Wennberg is the organization’s executive director. He said the records show consultants looked at a financing plan based on a combination of payroll and income taxes. But then, Wennberg said, the consultants were told to back off.

"It does appear that the consultants, based on meeting summaries, and based on agenda, and based on the billing records, the consultants were delivering at least preliminary analytical results to the administration in mid-November," he said. "And by late November a decision was made to stop."

Wennberg said the administration was required by law to show how it could raise the roughly $1.6 billion needed to fund a single payer system. He believes a draft financing plan exists from the consultants at the University of Massachusetts.

"They would have analyzed what financing scheme – what combination of taxes does the administration wants us to test – and then what does the first order, the direct results of that, look like?" he said.

Wennberg thinks the plan includes a 10 percent payroll tax and a boost in the income tax. But he suggested those funding sources proved politically unpalatable.

"Let’s put it this way, if I were running for office I would be hesitant to run out and promote that," he said.

Proponents of single payer health care say any public financing scheme would replace what Vermonters already spend on health care insurance premiums.

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding said there is no financing plan yet. And he said Wennberg’s search for a smoking gun has turned up blanks.

"We did not receive a finance plan from the University of Massachusetts, a part of a financing plan from the University of Massachusetts, or any indication that we would be getting some bad news," he said.

Spaulding said the Legislature will consider a financing plan in 2015, two years before federal law allow states to adopt single payer systems. Vermont unsuccessfully sought a waiver to begin single payer sooner.

"When we eventually came to the conclusion that 2017 was about the best we could do in terms of a start date for Green Mountain Care, we thought it did not make sense to put a specific finance plan in place, and told U-Mass to stop going down that road, and focus on the cost side of the equation," he said.

Dan Barlow is a spokesman for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. He’s a single payer advocate – and is on the opposite side of Vermonters for Health care Freedom on the issue. But Barlow agreed the public should know now how the plan would be paid for.

"And we believe we need to have this conversation sooner rather than later," he said. "The longer we wait, the more misinformation and conspiracy theories will spread out there."

But Administration Secretary Spaulding said the governor and his advisers wanted to go slower on a financing plan, especially since critics charged they were moving too fast on single payer.

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