When it comes to the state of Vermont healthcare these days, the words of a Fleetwood Mac song come to mind: You can go your own way you can call it another lonely day (the tune that Lindsey Buckingham wrote in response to his rollercoaster relationship with fellow band member Stevie Nicks). Many states are railing against national healthcare reform, saying it goes too far and gives the government too much power, but Vermont is taking the opposite approach saying it didn't go far enough. That mindset has set Vermont apart as the only state in the nation intent on taking the long, lonely trip toward a single-payer healthcare system.
Or, rather, a universal and unified healthcare system. (Vermont lawmakers felt the term single payer evoked a less user friendly connotation.) A mammoth bill has passed the state House that puts Vermont on its way toward universal healthcare. The bill, among other things, gives the state authorization to create a benefit plan to cover all residents and seek all Congressional waivers needed to do so, and creates a new state board to oversee the entire operation.
This powerful five-member groupto be appointed by the state's new governor, single-payer champion Peter Shumlin is already being referred to by some within Vermont as the Jedi Council. Who exactly will assume the Yoda role is yet to be determined, but I can just hear it now. Receive care you will. Or perhaps the dreaded, Receive care you will not.
The bill still has to clear the Senate, where it currently resides. And while the new Democratic governor has a favorable legislature, opponents are making their voices heard calling the plan ill-conceived, rushed and a potential financial nightmare that could lead to massive tax increases. The plan, which will phase out most private insurance, has strong support as well, however. And if any state is going to make a serious run at this, it would be Vermont. After all, this is the same state that occasionally finds candidates running on a secession from the union platform. Talk about going your own way.
It is far too early to tell if this plan will make it into law in part or in whole and if it does, whether it would be good, bad or ugly. Vermont deserves credit for being ambitious, but its plan to overstep the federal reform has more serious questions at this point than reasonable answers. While it would be prudent to possibly table the matter for the time being, that could possibly spell doom for such an ambitious effort and lawmakers don't appear to be in the mood to wait. So with that being said, everyone should buckle their seat belts in Vermont. After all, while Go Your Own Way? is a helluva song, it chronicles a painful, mistake-filled journey.