Vermont Charges Ahead on Health Care ‘Public Option’

By: - March 25, 2011 12:00 am

While many states are suing to stop the Obama administration’s expansion of health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, Vermont is moving dramatically in the opposite direction. The state House of Representatives on Thursday (March 24) approved legislation that eventually could allow every Vermont resident to obtain state-paid health insurance, a legislative priority for new Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin.

The 92-49 vote in the state House came after a day and night of debate and was split largely along party lines, according to the Burlington Free Press .  All but three Democrats supported the legislation (with the help of five Progressives and two independents), while Republicans tried unsuccessfully to defeat the proposal. It now moves to the state Senate, where the president pro tempore, Democrat John Campbell, promised to deliver it to Shumlin’s desk before the end of the legislative session.

Thursday’s vote is a big win for Shumlin, who has not backed down from his campaign pledge to create the nation’s first single-payer, universal health care system in Vermont even though the so-called public option failed to obtain enough support in last year’s health care debate in Washington, D.C. Even without the public option, the federal health care law has come under legal and political attack in courts and statehouses around the country.

That hasn’t stopped tiny Vermont, which, as Stateline reported in December , might seem like an unlikely place for a major revamp of the health insurance system: By most standards, Vermont’s health care system already is one of the nation’s best. The United Health Foundation has ranked Vermont the healthiest state in the country four years in a row. Fewer than 10 percent of Vermonters lack health insurance, one of the lowest rates in the country.

As Shumlin explained in an interview with Stateline ‘s Josh Goodman, however,
For Vermont, it’s all about containing costs. The annual cost of health care in Vermont has doubled to roughly billion a year over the past 8 years, and Shumlin contends that “it’s killing small businesses and kicking the middle class in the teeth.”

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