• A hard experiment for Vt.
     | September 06,2013

    In a recent editorial, The Burlington Free Press says that Act 48, Vermont’s new health care law is “a worthwhile experiment” and that opponents offer “no plausible alternative”. Neither statement is correct. Vermonters and Vermont’s health care system will suffer irreparable harm if this “experiment” continues and if opponent’s alternatives are ignored.

    Vermonters don’t deserve to have this health care reform experiment forced on them. Small businesses (those who employ 50 or fewer) and individuals who purchase health care are being forced into a new untested mandated health care exchange to purchase health insurance starting on Oct. 1, 2013. Although the exchange is federally mandated as part of ObamaCare, it is supposed to be a free and open marketplace where you can buy through the exchange, or buy coverage outside the exchange if you wish.

    Why are Vermonters being forced into it instead? Because Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Democrats’ super majority believe government is better able to make health care decisions for us and our families than we are for ourselves. They are determined to create a single-payer health care system by 2017. In doing so they are ignoring one of the chief lessons of the 20th century. We developed antitrust laws to break up private monopolies in the early part of the 20th century, because we learned they are anti-consumer. Eastern Europe gave us a vivid example of the ultimate outcome of public monopolies in the latter part of the century when entire governments collapsed under their inefficiencies. Affordability and quality depend on efficiency and innovation. Efficiency and innovation depend on choice and competition.

    Under the false premise that Vermont’s health care system is broken, we are being forced off a cliff into a system that costs more, and for many will eventually provide less care. It will require you and your family to share your financial and health care records with state and federal agencies, will force some businesses to lay off workers or cut workers’ hours, will create incentives for doctors to leave the state or retire early, will force hospitals to ration care and for some hospitals, to even close their doors and go out of business. We are already seeing hospital employees being laid off while many of Vermont’s hospitals are struggling to meet their current budgets.

    Vermont has historically had a high-quality health care system that has provided access to very good care. Currently, approximately 48,000 people are uninsured, there is a strong likelihood that after January 2014, post health care reform, we will have just as many or even more Vermonters who are uninsured, and we will have spent $171.6 million in the process.

    Although the restrictive Exchange and so-called “single payer” are being represented by the Shumlin administration as inevitable, it is important to know that they are not. The same Legislature that created this mess out of what an exchange is supposed to be, and foolishly bought into the nonexistent $500 million in savings through “single payer,” can undo the damage in the next session.

    Here are a few things Vermont could have done (and still can do) that would have enhanced the quality of our health care system without the long-term damage we are now inviting. These simple steps could lower costs and made it easier for the uninsured to purchase health insurance:

    n Make wellness pay off: Allow discounts for healthy lifestyles.

    n Post prices: patients should know what treatment costs.

    n Lower the cost of individual health insurance by making it Vermont state tax deductible.

    n Pave the way for interstate insurance purchases by opening a dialogue with bordering states.

    n Aggressively root out fraud, waste, error and abuse, something Vermont has never done effectively.

    n Reduce emergency room visits by creating extended-day walk-in clinics and urgent care centers.

    n Allow health care insurance to be purchased outside the Exchange.

    n Create “captive” insurance plans in which businesses join together to create multi-employer pools.

    n Implement malpractice reforms such as requiring arbitration, capping non-economic damages and providing safe harbors for providers who practice evidence based medicine.

    n Get state government out of the way of free market reforms.

    n Create more incentives for employees to participate in health savings accounts to remove the sting of high deductibles.

    n Work with hospitals to expand Medicaid efficiencies and eligibility.

    Universal insurance coverage is a worthy goal. In fact, the Affordable Care Act’s concept of creating an exchange where private insurers offer basic plans, can be a significant step toward universal coverage. Vermont could move us closer to universal health care, without destroying the benefits of choice. This could be accomplished by requiring citizens who are not Medicaid eligible to buy health insurance which could be made income sensitive by providing a “prebate,” based on reported income, the same way we do with renter rebates and property taxes. There is no need to install a new single payer, government run monopoly.

    The path we are now on, our “worthy experiment” so-called will have serious consequences to Vermont’s health care system, Vermont’s economy and individuals’ ability to afford and obtain care.

    I’ve been fighting this government takeover for two plus years. I’ve watched businesses, CEOs, business associations, doctors, hospitals and elected officials roll over and not fight to prevent this experiment from happening, and now with less than 50 days to go before the Exchange comes online, I’m appealing to every individual reading this. Get involved, rise up and fight for your right to freedom of choice and affordable health care.

    A note to the moms of Vermont: You are probably most invested in your families’ health care coverage. If you don’t like what is being proposed, I strongly urge you to get engaged and let your voice of opposition be heard. Protect your family’s right to high quality health care. The time to act is now. The consequences of inaction are clear. In a few short years you will have fewer choices, there will be less innovation and the inefficiencies of government run monopolies will be buried in higher tax burdens.

    Gov. Shumlin, here’s my challenge to you and any other elected official who supports Vermont’s restrictive Exchange System: Sign up on Oct. 1. If it is “good enough” for the rest of us, it’s certainly “good enough” for you, too.

    Darcie Johnston is founder of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom.

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