October 17, 2017

Guest Column: Speaking with one voice on health care

By Paul Cillo

Vermont is lucky. Even with divided state government and occasional partisan spats, our leaders on both sides of the aisle can agree that taking health care away from millions of Americans is a bad idea.

At a conference I attended in Boise, Idaho, last week, state-level policy leaders from around the country discussed the potential impact of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Many of them were fighting to convince their governors, senators and representatives that slashing Medicaid funding, disrupting the individual insurance market and putting their constituents’ health in danger would be devastating.

But not in Vermont. Here we’re fortunate to have our senators, representative and governor all on the same side. Gov. Phil Scott joined a bipartisan group of 11 governors last month to urge the U.S. Senate not to repeal the ACA, but to work with governors to fix it. Vermont Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders not only voted against repeal, but made strong statements denouncing the attempts to take health care away from Vermonters. Rep. Peter Welch voted against the plan proposed in the U.S. House and supports a bipartisan path to better health care.

The effects of any of the proposals considered so far in Congress would be harmful to Vermont. Estimates by the Urban Institute and the AARP show that the state’s uninsured rate would nearly triple under the various plans, stripping health coverage from over 30,000 Vermonters. The state would lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year in federal funding, and Vermonters purchasing insurance on the individual market would see costs go up by thousands of dollars per year.

Governors know better than most how cuts at the federal level can affect their states — federal funds make up more than a third of Vermont’s budget — and their voices are important in the debates in Washington.

This isn’t the first time Scott, a Republican, has taken a stand against national Republican leadership. In January, he protested President Trump’s executive order restricting immigration and refugee resettlement, and he has questioned tactics by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

At least for now, Vermonters can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that recent national health care gains are secure. But maybe it’s not luck that produced the unified voice we heard this summer. Maybe it’s what Vermonters expect from their leaders.

Paul Cillo is president and executive director of Public Assets Institute, a Montpelier-based policy advocacy group (publicassets.org).

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