The word has come down to members of the House Health Care Committee: don’t add any new revenue to Governor Shumlin’s budget.
“I spoke to the committee last week,” House Speaker Shap Smith told GMD. “What I said was, the Governor had made a proposal with regard to… transitioning from VHAP and Catamount into the [health care] exchange [in 2014]. And given the broader context of the overall budget, I didn’t think that we could spend more money than the Governor had proposed.”
The transition from VHAP/Catamount to the exchange is problematic because the exchange isn’t as generous to working people as Vermont’s current programs. In his budget, Shumlin managed to hold Vermonters harmless on premiums — and, in many cases, reduce premiums — but significantly increased potential out-of-pocket costs. In other words, if you stay healthy you pay less, but if you get sick or injured you could pay a lot more.
“Very frustrating,” said Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), member of the committee and leader of the House Progressive Caucus. “It likely means we won’t decrease our number of uninsured and therefore our ability to draw down federal tax credits doesn’t match projections. All this bodes poorly for shifting to single-payer.”
Decreasing the number of uninsured is a key goal of Shumlin’s health care reform plan. And Peter Sterling, executive director of the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security, agrees with Pearson that the short-term transition may defeat the larger goal: “Consumers… weigh both premiums and out-of-pocket limits when deciding whether to enroll. And when you look at the statistics, half of the uninsured are eligible for Catamount or VHAP. So affordability is clearly playing a role.”
And since the affordability problem will increase under Shumlin’s current plan, Sterling fears that the number of uninsured Vermonters will grow after the transition to the exchange.
After the jump: More cold water on a chilly day.
When asked if he’d delivered a similar no-new-revenue message to other committees, the Speaker said “No, I have not. But that’s not because I wouldn’t give that message to those committees, it’s because I haven’t talked to them.”
If that’s not enough cold water for you, Smith has another bucketful.
“I don’t think that there is room to spend much more than the Governor proposed spending in his budget. And in fact, I’m not sure that we can spend everything that he did propose in the budget. I have some concerns because we really don’t have any reserves left, and we spend a significant amount of one-time money in the budget.
“When I look at this year’s budget, I’m also trying to look at next year’s budget, also with an eye to what’s happening in Washington, and I want to be wise in the investments that we make, but I also want to be cognizant of the fact that we have pressures that are coming at us that should give us pause in spending a lot of new money.”
A similar warning shot has already come from Rep. Janet Ancel (D-Calais), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“We’re working in a very tight budget situation. …I think it’s a legitimate question whether we’re going to spend additional money even on really important programs this year.”
It may be a tough pill for progressives and liberal Democrats to swallow, but it may well be that the Governor, as much as we like to bag on his DINOism, is actually to the left of his own party leadership.