Ayer helps chart a new course for health care

MONTPELIER — While Gov. Peter Shumlin has at least temporarily put the brakes on Vermont’s transition to a single-payer health insurance system, that will not prevent key legislative committees from studying and advancing measures aimed at reducing the cost of, and improving access to, health care services.
That was the message this week from Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, who again finds herself chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. The committee has regrouped following Shumlin’s announcement last month that Vermont should not pursue a single-payer health care system at this time because the state and its taxpayers are not in a position to pay for it.
But lawmakers will continue to study other ways of improving the state’s health care system, Ayer noted,
“We’ll probably do a sorting and prioritizing of the things that we think can work given our financial outlook,” Ayer said. “The title here would be, ‘We’re looking at other options, and we believe we have a handful we believe we can investigate more thoroughly.’”
Ayer said her committee during the coming days will hear from groups proposing different health care reform ideas, ranging from relatively minor changes to the current private insurance system, to major overhauls. Among the ideas: Simply reducing the financial toll of health care premiums on middle- and low-income residents, or creating a separate coverage scheme for hospital care. The panel will also hear a pitch from the Vermont Workers’ Center about proceeding with a single-payer health care system that would likely include a tax on more affluent Vermonters. The Workers’ Center was the organization that organized major health care reform protests at the Statehouse during Shumlin’s inaugural address on Jan. 8.
Ayer added the Legislature will continue to pursue some of the groundwork it had hoped to lay for a single-payer system. The Green Mountain Care Board will continue to do research that the Senate Health and Welfare Committee will review.
“We’re going to go forward with the preparations for single-payer that involved improving access, improving care and improving the price of health care,” Ayer said. Some of those preparations included a close look at how to reduce the administrative costs of health care, including price transparency and global budgeting.
“Some of these things are still in the planning stage; some are in early pilot stage, so we don’t know if we can realize those savings,” Ayer said. “But we do know that any progress we make in any of those areas is good. It would never be a wasted effort.”
There will be many opportunities during the weeks ahead for people to testify on health care reform, according to Ayer. She hopes those who testify will offer new ideas, rather than reiterating what she said has been the crystal clear message that the current health insurance system has been failing many Vermonters.
Ayer acknowledged that the road to health care reform has been longer and bumpier than she had imagined.
“You could never have convinced me how complicated this whole process is,” Ayer said.
Ultimately, Ayer believes her committee will ask the Green Mountain Care Board for funding estimates and to do more research on the most promising health care reform options that surface this session.
“I doubt that we’ll come up with another plan that gives us exactly what we want to do,” Ayer said, but added, “My interest is having a plan that works. I don’t want to do something for the sake of movement forward that will fail.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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