Vermont Kills Liberal Dream of Single Payer Healthcare

In 2011, Peter Shumlin, the Democrat governor of Vermont, promised to usher in an unprecedented liberal dream for his little corner of the United States. While the rest of the country was concerning themselves with the implications of Obamacare, Shumlin was going to go full-socialist and create single-payer healthcare. He signed a bill creating Green Mountain Care, and observers everywhere looked to see if he could create the Great Liberal Utopia in Vermont.

The logistics would be tricky; just figuring out how it was all going to work was time-consuming. They planned to roll it out in 2017, if all went according to plan. In the meantime, progressives got excited. If single payer worked for Vermont, it could potentially spread across the country. While those meanie Republicans worked to dismantle the president’s healthcare system, the libs would already be on their way to building it back up in the image of Canada.

Senator Bernie Sanders told The Atlantic in 2013, “If Vermont can be that model, it will have a profound impact on discourse in this country.”

Writing in the New York Times this April, Molly Worthen said you couldn’t dismiss the possibility of universal healthcare sweeping the nation. She regaled us with the history of Canada’s healthcare system, starting as it did as a tiny third-party experiment in Saskatchewan before ultimately becoming the law of the land. The same could happen in America, she mused.

Economics and the Power of Positive Thinking

For conservatives scratching their heads about how Vermont was going to pay for all this free healthcare, economist William Hsiao was there to assure everyone that he had it all figured out. In a 2011 Health Affairs paper, Hsiao insisted that single-payer healthcare would save the state 25.3% when compared with their current expenditures. He also determined Vermont could cut employer and household medical spending by $200 million, create nearly 4,000 new jobs, and raise the state’s total economic output by $100 million.

As is so often the case with progressive economic theory, though, reality didn’t match the dream.

This week, Shumlin was forced to announce that Vermont couldn’t afford Green Mountain Care’s $2 billion price tag, Hsiao’s forecast notwithstanding. He opted to shelve single payer healthcare instead, doubtlessly crushing the hopes of millions of American Europhiles. Faced with the prospect of needing an 11.5% payroll tax and a 9.5 increase in the income tax to pay for the plan, Shumlin wisely retreated.

Let’s Stick to Non-Fiction

I understand the people who support single-payer care. It’s maybe the easiest liberal fantasy to “get.” But that’s what it is: a fantasy. When tried, single payer healthcare has unfailingly led to worse access, worse quality, widespread physician shortages, and slowed growth in the field of medical technology. And, of course, it’s monstrously expensive in terms of the taxpayer burden.

In rejecting universal healthcare, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has a classic line: “No state or nation should consider implementing a system that individuals from other countries come here to escape from.” Amen. The U.S. healthcare system isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination (especially now), but it’s a lot better than the alternative. Let’s hope we never have to find that out the hard way.


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