A year ago it looked like decades of efforts to reform health care were flushed down the toilet when Governor Shumlin announced that his plans for a single-payer system in Vermont were dead. His plans may be history, but thanks to long-time Montpelier activist Peter Sterling there is new hope for Vermonters who continue to struggle to pay for health insurance.
The plan is called Dr. Dynasaur 2.0 and it is a brilliant re-engineering of a successful program that also sets the stage for more comprehensive future reform. The brilliance is in its simplicity and the fact that it uses existing structures. The plan calls for extending Vermont's current Medicaid program for children up to 18 years old to include those up to 26.
What Sterling is calling for now is simply a study to see if Dr. Dynasaur 2.0 is feasible. By feasible he means that it will not cost Vermonters, and especially businesses, any more than they are paying now for health insurance. He believes the study may show that businesses and individuals will actually save money once this new plan is up and running.
A study means that there has to be the will in the legislature to pass a bill that would appropriate somewhere around $400,000 for the work. Sterling has done his homework and he has aroused the interest of House Speaker Shap Smith as well as key chairs of House and Senate committees. The political groundwork has been done and, hopefully, the study will be done.
In a recently released document, Sterling listed what he believes will be the potential benefits of his new plan. "Employers will be relieved of the cost of offering family plans since everyone 26 and under will receive Dr. Dynasaur. For example, a family earning $100,000 on an Exchange platinum plan would see a $3,664/yr premium reduction and significant out of pocket expense exposure by switching to a couples plan and their children moving to Dr. Dynasaur."
"In addition, with the need to offer family plans eliminated, employers offering high value insurance can avoid the ACA's excise tax. There will be a decrease in the number of underinsured Vermonters by moving them from high out-of-pocket cost private insurance plans into Dr. Dynasaur."
In addition the plan calls for, "... expanding low or no cost coverage for dental care, primary care, mental health treatment, prescription drugs to 120,000 young Vermonters, providing a financial incentive for young Vermonters to stay in Vermont, decreasing the uninsured rate for the "young and invincibles" aged 19-26, increasing health care provider reimbursement rates so they can be paid fairly for treating Medicaid enrollees and assisting in the implementation of the goals of all-payer reform by moving more Vermonters into insurance that prioritizes preventative care and primary care."
If the study does shows that more taxes are needed than there are savings to Vermont employers and employees in health care costs, then Sterling and his supporters say they will scrap the plan. Those supporters include a broad spectrum of state organizations in addition to key lawmakers. They are: AARP Vermont, VT League of Cities and Towns, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Vermont NEA, Main Street Alliance, Voices for Vermont's Children, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, American Federation of Teachers/United Professions of Vermont, Professional Firefighters of Vermont, VPIRG, American Heart Association, Vermont State Employees Association and American Cancer Society
Critics will try to tell half the story and say that this is just another tax increase. But the whole story is that although new taxes will be needed, a viable plan will mean that those taxes will be more than offset by savings, especially to Vermont businesses. According to Sterling, the benefit of the study to Vermonters is that, "The study will show how much they're paying now and how much they will pay under a new plan. Paying taxes that are offset by savings is better than paying more in premiums and deductibles every year without any relief in sight."
If the study shows the proposed savings it will also mean that new structures and bureaucracies do not have to be created. The existing Dr. Dynasaur program will need to increase capacity, so the cost of implementation will be about as low as it can get.
Our current health care non-system is still in need of major overhauling. Obamacare should only be looked at as a stopgap measure whose time has run out. After all, it was more a gift to the health insurance industry than to the American people. That is why prices are rising as fast as they are.
Dr. Dynasaur 2.0 is a plan that moves beyond older reform efforts and its brilliance is in its simplicity. We owe it to ourselves to spend about 67 cents apiece to see if we can take this plan to the bank.