by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER – Creating a budget for the year 2016 is expected to be one of the toughest jobs this upcoming legislative session, as well as assuaging the ever-increasing money appetites of education and health care. “Our spending is rising faster than our economy,” Gov. Peter Shumlin told a room full of reporters Dec. 30 in the Pavilion’s fifth-floor conference room. Shumlin said he would work hard with the Legislature to close a roughly $100 million gap. But, by the end of the conference, Shumlin did not spell out just what programs and jobs would be cut and what methods would be used to raise the revenue to meet expenses during a time when income growth is less than budgeted for last year.
However, Shumlin did vow specifically to keep the hatchet away from the main subject of his 2014 State of the State address, saying, “I am not making cuts to opiate treatment.” Shumlin said the state has made gains in this area, and addiction is the cause of many of Vermont’s problems ranging from child endangerment to all manner of crimes. But just what the health care system will look like remains to be seen.
Shumlin announced he is releasing the modeling plan for a number of scenarios around which to structure a health care system Dec. 30. They “are scrambling to get it done,” he said earlier the same day. “We will release the report, and then if you have any questions we’ll be there to answer them. We want Vermonters to see all of the data that led us to the conclusions that we came to,” Shumlin said, presumably referring to his announcement before Christmas that he was abandoning the single payer plan because it was economically unfeasible.
Shumlin said he and his advisors very regrettably came to the conclusion that the single payer plan would not work. “It didn’t, in my view, reach the goals I’ve established for universal health care in a system where Vermonters aren’t constrained,” but, Shumlin said he was open to ideas that would achieve the goal of affordable universal health care. During the hourlong press conference Shumlin repeated he is very interested in hearing any and all ideas that would solve the problem of finding a way to pay for health care.
“What we are going to do is do everything I know how to advance moving from the way we pay for health care right now, which is inefficient – costs are rising faster than we can afford – and the main thing that is standing between Vermonters and a raise right now, is the ever-rising cost of health care,” Shumlin said, adding he would like to move from a fee-for-service system to one that pays for outcomes. He said would like to see a system that rewards good outcomes and gets people to live well, such as by “having a good diet, exercise and getting of the smokes.”
He said he could achieve this by strengthening the Green Mountain Health Care Board by better funding it. How would he fund it, it was asked, but Shumlin said he would be working with the Legislature to figure that out.
On other matters, Shumlin said he would not change the gun laws, he would look at issues around property taxes, cleaning up Lake Champlain and resolving the spiralling costs of education. In the end, he refused to divulge what topic he has chosen for his State of the State address on the grounds that then he would have nothing new to say during what would be his first address as a newly re-elected governor.