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After years of effort, Vermont gov. reportedly gives up pursuing single-payer health care

Alex Wong/Getty Images
  1. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin told reporters Wednesday the "time is not right" to move forward on single-payer health care
  2. Shumlin has been a huge single-payer advocate, and his administration has spent years trying to set up a public insurance plan to cover all Vermonters
  3. If Vermont does not move forward on single-payer, it will be seen as a large set back for other states interested in testing out the model.

Shumlin: "The time is not right"

Vermont has long had a two-pronged approach to building a single-payer health care system. First, they would figure out what they would want the system to look like. Then, they would figure out how to pay for it.

The state passed legislation outlining how the single-payer system would work in 2011. And ever since, the state has been trying to figure out how to pay for a system that covers everybody. Most estimates suggest that the single payer system would cost $2 billion each year. For a state that only collects $2.7 billion in revenue, that is a large sum of money.

What Shumlin appears to be saying today is that the "time is not right" to move forward on the financing of the single-payer system. And that means putting the whole effort aside, with no clear moment when the debate would be reopened.

Here's what reporters were tweeting from a press conference he gave Wednesday:

Plan was more expensive than initially expected

Shumlin's remarks came after a presentation to the Green Mountain Care Board, a state advisory panel overseeing the implementation of the new system. That presentation said that the new system would be more expensive than initial estimates. There's one slide that lays out all the differences between current and previous assumptions about costs;

green mountain care

(Shumlin administration)

The Shumlin administration estimated that single-payer would cost $2.5 billion in 2017, the year it would launch and necessitate a new 11.5 percent income tax on all Vermonters.

A big setback for single-payer supporters in the United States

Vermont has long been viewed as a crucial test case for single-payer health care in America—Shumlin definitely gets that, too.

"If Vermont gets single-payer health care right, which I believe we will, other states will follow," Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin predicted in an interview we did last March. "If we screw it up, it will set back this effort for a long time. So I know we have a tremendous amount of responsibility, not only to Vermonters."

At the same time, he and others have always seen financing as the most difficult part of overhauling a health care system. It's one thing to lay out a set of principles about how health care ought to work. It's quite another to nearly double a state's tax revenues in order to make those principles a reality.

"I don’t underestimate the challenge," Shumlin said in March. "I know how hard this is, getting to the finish line. There are a thousand swords that could stab us in the heart."

At Wednesday's press conference, Shumlin appears to have underscored the difficulty of his decision.

Correction: An initial version attributed a Powerpoint presentation to the Green Mountain Care Board. It was a Shumlin administration presentation to the Green Mountain Care Board.