Politics & Policy

The Man Who Saved Vermont from Socialized Medicine

How a longshot Republican challenger helped undo the state's Jonathan Gruber-powered single-payer scheme.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Thursday that he is, with great regret, pulling the plug on the state’s plan for a single-payer health care system. “Earlier this week, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my public life when I announced that I cannot support a move to a publicly-financed health care system in Vermont at this time,” Shumlin said of the socialized medicine plan that drew national attention, among other reasons, because it committed the Green Mountain State to a hefty contract with embattled Obamacare thinker Jonathan Gruber.

What Shumlin neglected to mention in his concession was that his challenger in a gubernatorial runoff gave Vermonters the same news way back in September.

“I’m getting credit today for being some sort of savant,” challenger Scott Milne tells National Review Online. “I said during our debates: The difference between Peter Shumlin and Scott Milne is that I will tell you before the election that single payer is dead.”

Milne is engaged in a legislative runoff with Shumlin after trailing the governor by fewer than 2,500 votes out of nearly 200,000 in the November election. Under Vermont’s constitution, any race in which no candidate gets a majority goes to the state house for decision by a secret ballot.

Shumlin’s office declined to comment but directed NRO to statements on Shumlin’s web site.

In a report, Shumlin says Single Payer “would require both a double digit payroll tax on Vermont businesses and an up to 9.5% public premium assessment on individual Vermonters’ income.”

In a speech, Shumlin refuses to delay the news for 11 pages:

I do not want to delay in sharing the details we now have and my conclusions.

All of my political life, I have been deeply committed to universal, publicly financed, single payer health coverage for all Vermonters. And I am proud of the work we did together to pass Act 48 and create Green Mountain Care. I believe moving to a publicly financed system that replaces the unfair and complicated way we now pay for health care is the right thing to do for Vermonters, for Vermont businesses, and for our Vermont economy . . . 

For years I have worked with supporters on this fairer way to pay for health care through Green Mountain Care. But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, even many of my friends on this issue now agree that this is not a simple flip of the light switch . . . 

Pushing for single payer health care financing when the time isn’t right and it would likely hurt our economy is not good for Vermont and it would not be good for true health care reform . . . 

In my judgment, now is not the right time to ask our legislature to take the step of passing a financing plan for Green Mountain Care . . . 

First, let me tell you the principles I had in mind . . . 

Our time will come.

The decision is not just welcome news for Vermonters whose state is on the verge of structural depression. It also gives strong evidence in support of Milne’s decision to continue his fight to throw Shumlin out of Montpelier.

Local media and Democrats have urged Milne to give up his quest to unseat the incumbent Democratic Party governor in a state house where the Democrats hold a two-to-one advantage. But Milne says Shumlin came into office in 2010 with three pledges: to close a nuclear power plant and to impose universal pre-kindergarten as well as universal health coverage on Vermont taxpayers.

Only the pledge to decommission, slowly, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has been honored. Milne’s decision to stay in the race has now pressed Shumlin into decisions on the other two promises. The incumbent submerged universal pre-k less than a month after the election. The deaths of both the single payer plan and universal pre-k could have occurred safely within the post-election lull. But now they will be the state’s main political news going into a legislative vote of confidence on the unpopular governor.

Though Shumlin’s performance in the election was historically bad, his party has a lock on the legislative branch, and in previous legislative votes the top vote-getter has been chosen. The probability that Milne will win is small. But Milne is in it not only to win it but to hold the governor accountable.

“If me sticking around and losing in the legislature gets Vermonters some transparency, it will be worth it,” Milne told NRO shortly after he scored 45 percent of the popular vote Shumlin’s to 46 percent.

Secret-ballot votes in the Vermont House and Senate are scheduled for January 7.

— Tim Cavanaugh is news editor of National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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