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First Casualty of GruberGate: Vermont Governor Abandons Single-Payer Health Care Plan

Vermont’s Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin is abandoning his efforts to implement the nation’s first single-payer health care system in 2015. The surprise announcement was a stunning setback for supporters of “the next step” envisioned in President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act.

Shumlin announced at a press conference  Wednesday that “it’s not the right time” for single-payer.

The last-minute reversal by Shumlin is the first major political consequence of the “GruberGate” scandal surrounding recently publicized comments by Jonathan Gruber, the controversial MIT economics professor often called the “architect” of Obamacare.

In July 2014, the state of Vermont signed a $280,000 contract with Gruber to conduct some of the financial modeling for Green Mountain Care, the state’s proposed single-payer health care system authorized by the Vermont Legislature in 2011, conditional upon the presentation by the governor of a viable financial plan.

But investigative reporting by Breitbart News, Vermont Digger, and the Vermont Press Bureau unveiled details about Gruber’s modeling activities and interaction with the Shumlin administration that cast doubt on the integrity of the process. In particular, these press reports raised questions about the lack of transparency and oversight in the state’s contract with Gruber. One area of concern that emerged was irregularities in Gruber’s billing practices.

Shumlin, who was first elected governor in 2010 on the promise that he would introduce a single-payer health care plan to the state, said that though it was the biggest political disappointment of his career he had concluded the state simply could not afford single-payer at this time.

“The bottom line is that, as we completed the financing modeling in the last several days, it became clear that the risk of economic shock is too high at this time to offer a plan I can responsibly support for passage in the Legislature,” Shumlin said.

In 2011, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 48, which authorized the establishment of the state’s Green Mountain Care single-payer health care system, conditional upon the governor submitting a viable financial plan by 2013.

But the Shumlin administration missed the 2013 deadline. That tardiness, combined with the administration’s lack of transparency about the process by which the plan was being developed, prompted Democratic State Representative Cynthia Browning to file a lawsuit designed to force the administration to release documents related to that process.

Though the Shumlin administration’s claims of executive privilege were backed up by a Superior Court judge’s decision last week rejecting Browning’s request, a potential appeal of that decision to the State Supreme Court was under consideration at the time Shumlin dropped his political bombshell.

As recently as December 3, all indications were that Governor Shumlin was still on target to introduce a single-payer system. On that date, the governor announced that the plan would be unveiled on December 29 or December 30.

But on Wednesday, Shumlin pulled the plug on the Green Mountain Care single-payer system, at least for 2015.

Shumlin’s decision was a personal setback for Gruber, an avowed supporter of single-payer. In a celebratory email sent to Michael Costa, deputy director of health care reform for the state of Vermont after securing the contract with the state in July, 2014, Gruber said, “I think we have the chance to really make history here.”

Gruber has apparently made history, but not the sort he envisioned back in July.

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