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Governor Shumlin Gives Unusual Address to Joint Committee

In a last minute decision, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-Vt) called on a joint committee to discuss the future of health care in Vermont on the very first day of the legislative session.
MONTPELIER - In a last minute decision, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-Vt) called on a joint committee to discuss the future of health care in Vermont on the very first day of the legislative session.

Rep. Mike Fisher says he doesn't think a sitting governor has addressed a legislative committee since Gov. Howard Dean. In this case, Shumlin addressed both the House Health Care Committee and the Senate Heath and Welfare Committee.

Gov. Shumlin began his address with the fitful, glitchy launch of Vermont Health Connect.

"No one is more disappointed than I that we fell short in our roll-out of the exchange," Shumlin said. "I take responsibility for those failures."

But the Governor's main reason for calling on the committees was to tell them he's not giving up on the future of health care reform in Vermont: the universal, single-payer system set to roll-out in 2017.

"The confusion, the disappointment and the struggle created by the website woes have caused some to suggest that perhaps I should be deterred," Shumlin said.

Far from being deterred, Shumlin says he's never been more committed to universal healthcare. But the legislators had concerns about starting another healthcare system while Vermont Health Connect's website just starts to run smoothly.

"This is not the first time that we've had large I.T. projects that have gotten off to very rocky starts," said Rep. Mike Fisher, chair of the House Health Care Committee.

Opponents of Shumlin's plan says it's just too soon to talk about the next step.

"We couldn't do the easy part of setting up the exchange successfully," said Darcie Johnston, President of Vermonters for Healthcare Freedom. "And now we're going on to the hard part, and we don't know how we're doing it. It's too risky," she said.

But the Governor had plenty of supporters, including members of the Vermont Workers' Union who were rallying in the hallways. They were calling for universal healthcare to come as soon as possible.

"Healthcare is a public good," said Mary Gerisch, President of the Vermont Workers' Union. "We don't need health insurance, we need health care. And there's a big difference," she said.

That difference is what Gov. Shumlin wants to become a reality, with planning starting this session.

"Let's start defining this year how we can replace healthcare premiums with a publicly financed system based on one's ability to pay," he said.

If the Governor's single-payer plan goes on as scheduled, Vermont would be the first state in the union to have universal, publicly-funded healthcare.



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