Vt. group says single payer plan in doubt

MONTPELIER- The future of Vermont's single payer health care system, which depends heavily on federal funding, may be in doubt, at least according to the National Federation of Independent Business chapter in Vermont.

The organization cited that last week's United States House of Representatives vote to eliminate funding to help states create health care exchanges was a warning sign.

The House of Representatives voted 238-183, with five Democrats crossing over, to scratch $14 billion dollars set aside to help state governments build exchanges aimed at standardizing their respective health insurance marketplaces.

"The big hole in Vermont's plan has always been its failure to specify a funding source," said NFIB Vermont Director Shawn Shouldice. "The only clearly defined funding element was the federal grant money for health care exchanges, and now that could vanish as well."

Shouldice said that while small business owners agree that the state's health care system is broken, and while they pay substantially higher insurance premiums on a per-employee basis than large corporations, they are deeply uncomfortable with Vermont's new law, expected to be enacted by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D)last week, because of its financing scheme.

"No one has a larger stake in health care reform than small businesses," said Shouldice. "But it makes little sense to jump out of a plane before you know what's in your parachute pack.

"We committed ourselves to reforming a $5 billion system; we don't know what we are buying and we don't know if we'll have sufficient funding to meet the state's needs," she said.

Shouldice isn't recommending that lawmakers repeal the measure that they recently enacted, but she'd like to see a plausible back-up plan that doesn't require higher taxes on small businesses.

"They had better get working on Plan B," said Shouldice.

"Our members are increasingly concerned that if the federal money doesn't materialize, or if the program turns out to be more costly than the state anticipated, they'll come back with higher payroll taxes or higher income taxes, both of which will ensure that fewer Vermonters will have jobs or health care," she said.

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