Another Obamacare Casualty: Vermont Governor Shumlin Will Not Seek Re-election

AP Photo/Andy Duback
AP Photo/Andy Duback

Governor Peter Shumlin, the Vermont Democrat who failed to deliver on his promise to introduce the nation’s first single-payer health care system when it became clear the concept was financially unsustainable, shocked the state’s political establishment on Monday when he announced he would not seek re-election in 2016.

Elected to his first two year term in 2010, Shumlin failed to obtain a majority of the vote in 2014, and was re-elected only after the Democratic controlled state legislature voted him in.

Shumlin’s third term has been marked by a number of high profile health-care related debacles, which include the failing performance of the Vermont Health Connect the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange and a botched effort to introduce a single-payer health care system.

Dubbed Green Mountain Care, the single-payer scheme has been a political fiasco heightened by the prominent role played by MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber. He’s the “architect” of Obamacare who became infamous in November when a video in which he called American voters “stupid” went viral. Gruber was a poorly supervised but highly paid consultant to the state.

Shumlin faced criticism from both the left and the right for his handling of the single-payer health care proposal.

Vermont’s large and loud progressive community called Shumlin a turncoat for failing to follow through on his promise to introduce the nation’s first single-payer system.

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom (VHCF), a free market based group that opposes Obamacare, faults Shumlin for promising to persist in seeking a single payer system over the remaining 18 months of his term.

“VHCF applauds Peter Shumlin’s decision not to run for a fourth term,” the organization’s president, Darcie Johnston, wrote in an email released late Monday.

“We believe that we were somewhat instrumental in his decision. Enough damage has been done already to Vermont’s health care system. Vermonters may heave a sigh of relief, thinking that the Governor’s failed health care policies will come to an end. But to celebrate now would be dangerously premature,” the email continued.

The email identified three warning signs that supporters of the single-payer system have not given up the fight:

(1) Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s Health Care Reform Chief, said yesterday that the administration will continue to seek an “all-payer waiver” from the federal government. The waiver would institute “global budgets” for health care, inevitably leading to rationing of care. It would also bring Vermonters’ Medicare payments under the state’s control. Miller said he plans to stay on the job until that goal is met.

(2) Single payer advocates have not given up. The Democratic majority passed a bill this session to explore the public financing of primary care. If all-out single payer is too big a bite, they want to finance primary care with taxes as a first step.

(3) Vermont Health Connect is sucking up millions of taxpayer dollars and it still doesn’t work. The administration is not managing the vendors hired to make it work, and there is no financial penalty built into their contracts. This must be changed, and the contractors and the administration must be held accountable. How much more must Vermonters continue to pay to support this failed system?

Based on his press conference statements on Monday, Johnston’s warning about further single-payer efforts from Shumlin are probably warranted.

“I decided to make this decision now because I want these 18 months in office to be focused entirely on continuing the work we have started together. . .We have a lot left to do. I’m excited to see this agenda through,” Shumlin said at the press conference.

As Politico reported:

Reporters asked the 59-year-old Shumlin on Monday about the high-profile failure of his administration to pass a single-payer health care system in the state. But he expressed hope he could still enact reforms during his final 18 months in office.

“What I learned the hard way was that … you can’t support any health care system if you keep spending money the way we are,” he said. “I wish we could have done the whole package. I think we can get half the loaf. Let’s do that.”

Shumlin’s travails on health care came to define his sagging fortunes as he narrowly clung to a lead against Milne. Outraged liberals who once cheered Vermont’s first-in-the-nation embrace of single-payer health care were dismayed when Shumlin shelved it over cost concerns. His administration was also beset by the technical failures of the state’s Obamacare exchange.

Shumlin’s efforts to promote a single-payer health care system were stymied in 2015 in part when his administration was embarrassed by reports of the lax oversight exercised in the billing practices of Gruber, the high profile MIT economist whose condescending statements about the “stupidity” of the American voters went viral a month before his economic modeling projections, the centerpiece of the Shumlin single payer plan, were set to be unveiled.

A Breitbart investigation of the state’s lax oversight and Gruber’s billing practices helped launch an investigation by the Vermont State Auditor, Doug Hoffer. The findings of his report, released in February, were devastating to Gruber and Shumlin:

In a 54-page memo, Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer confirms that embattled Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber overbilled the state in invoices he submitted for work Gruber claims was performed by research assistants.

“The evidence suggests that Dr. Gruber overstated the hours worked by the RA, but we have insufficient documentation to say any more about his inconsistencies and questionable billing practices. I have referred the matter to the Attorney General for his consideration, which is standard procedure in such circumstances,” Hoffer said in the conclusion of his memo, released Monday.

As Breitbart News reported at the time:

The original contract was for $450,000, but the terms were amended on November 24, shortly after Gruber’s controversial comments about the “stupidity of the American voter” were made public. Under the amendment, the contract was reduced to the $200,000 already billed by Gruber plus any additional expenses for work by his research assistants.

At the time of the amendment, Gruber had billed the State of Vermont $200,000 for his services. $100,000 for 200 hours of his time, billed at $500 per hour, and $100,000 for the time of research assistants, who Gruber claimed worked 1,000 hours, billed at $100 per hour.

The state had paid $160,000 against those invoices at that time, retaining $40,000 until the final completion and acceptance of his report.

On December 17, Governor Shumlin announced that, at least for 2015, he was abandoning plans to introduce a single-payer health care system to Vermont.

Later that month, the Shumlin administration released the report which relied on Gruber’s projections.

News that Shumlin would not run again sparked a frenzy of speculation about potential candidates in both major parties. “Republicans [Lieutenant Governor] Scott, Randy Brock, Dan Feliciano and Scott Milne are among the people considering a run, as are Democrats U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, House Speaker Shap Smith and Matt Dunne,” the Burlington Free Press reported.

Since it’s Vermont, there may also be a third party challenger on the left:

The Vermont Progressive Party is actively seeking a Progressive to run for governor, but no names have surfaced yet, said Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington.

Pearson said Progressives supported Shumlin in 2014 when he promised to support single-payer health care and other Progressive causes.

Shortly after last November’s election, the governor was forced to abandon his long-time quest for a publicly financed health care system, saying the costs for the state simply were too high to have made the single-payer system feasible.

“There is really a broken trust for many Progressives who, in other instances, might have considered supporting a Democratic candidate” in 2016, Pearson said.

Shumlin claimed his decision not to run for re-election was personal, not political.

“This is not driven by poll numbers; this is not driven by politics,” he told the Free Press, which reported “he intends to leave politics entirely, noting he plans to go back to work at his family’s business in Putney after leaving office in January 2017.”


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