The first debate of the election season between Lt. Gov Phil Scott and Dean Corren ended in a dead heat.
The two candidates, who have opposing points of view, sparred over health care reform, property taxes, renewable energy and the legalization of marijuana. The debate, which was held live at the Tunbridge World’s Fair, attracted a handful of onlookers. The political discourse was punctuated by cows mooing in the background, roosters crowing and occasional blasts of music from the midway.
Scott is the sole Republican incumbent running for statewide office this election season. Corren, who has been endorsed by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, is a Progressive and received nearly 4,000 write-in votes from Democrats in the recent primary. He hopes to receive the Democratic Party endorsement on Sept. 19.
While there is a Republican candidate in the governor’s race, the GOP was not able to find candidates to run for the four other statewide offices, including secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and attorney general.
Mark Johnson, who hosted the debate live for WDEV, gave Scott and Corren nearly a full half hour to discuss the key issue in the race: whether plans for a single payer health care system slated to go into effect in 2017 should move forward.
Johnson asked the candidates whether health care should be tied to employment.
Scott equivocated at first, and said, “I’m not thinking it should necessarily be in future.” Vermonters want health insurance and the comfort of being taken care of, he said, “so that when they are sick and need help they have someone to lean on.”
While the Vermont Health Connect rollout has been “disastrous,” Scott said, he believes the exchange, which allows individuals to seek subsidized insurance plans and continues employee-based insurance, is the best option going forward. He also advocated for a tri-state alliance between Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine that would expand health insurance choices and create more competition between carriers.
“I think the exchange makes some sense and I think we should put our efforts into making sure that it works, and maybe expand it.”
Most Vermonters, Scott said, don’t know the difference between the health care exchange and the state’s plans for single payer.
Corren, an engineer and former lawmaker, is a staunch advocate of a single payer system, and he said definitively that health care should not be connected to work. That approach to insurance is a relic of the 1940s when health insurance was inexpensive and employers were looking for ways to lure more people into the workforce. In most first world nations, health care is provided to populations through government-funded systems and was never tied to employment.
The implementation of a single payer system in Vermont will free employers and workers of the burden of ever-rising health care costs, Corren said.
“The burden of figuring out what plan to offer employees will be lifted from businesses so they can be free to concentrate on actual work and then from the employees’ point of view people will be free to start business and do the work they’re most passionate about,” Corren said.
The Burlington Progressive said that the separation of insurance from employment will create job growth because Vermonters will no longer feel trapped in jobs just because they need health insurance.
Corren said the lieutenant governor can play a critical role in explaining to Vermonters how much simpler a single payer plan will be compared with the complexities of the health care exchange.
As a representative in the House, Corren proposed a single payer plan in the 1990s. Because of this legislative experience, he says he is prepared to help shape the details of a single payer plan and ensure that it is economically beneficial to the state as a whole.
His primary concern is slowing the growth of health care expenditures, which have ballooned from $1.5 billion in the early 1990s to $5 billion per year, and spending will continue to accelerate unless the state contains costs through a single payer system. Right now, he said the Green Mountain Care Board is looking primarily at hospital budgets. Under a single payer plan, Vermont can function like a large corporation and pursue low cost prescription drug contracts. He also sees opportunities for more comprehensive prevention programs that could save money down the line.
All of the money for health care, Corren says, comes out of Vermonters’ pockets, the trick is figuring out how to adjust the “flows” from payroll payments via employers and employees to a payroll and income tax system. Right now, he said employees pay 15 percent of their salaries toward health insurance premiums, copays and coinsurance.
Scott said he is skeptical about the efficacy of a single payer health care system.
“I’ve heard the term ‘free’ a lot this morning and giving businesses freedom in the future to grow and not bear this burden, but I’ve been in business for 30 years and I’ve covered insurance and I’ve gone through all the peaks and valleys of being in business in Vermont,” Soctt said. “When I hear about health care and free I think there’s nothing free about health care and somebody else has to pay the bill.”
The details, Scott said, “really matter.” He is concerned that the single payer plan will not meet Vermonters’ expectations and employers, as a result, will need to provide supplemental insurance.
“It matters what the plan looks like and what the plan will really cost and who’s going to pay,” Scott said. “We’re not on an island here in Vermont. We have to compete with our neighbors, we have to compete with other states, and we have to have all of that information before us to make an informed decision about whether it’s good for Vermont. We can’t gloss over that.”
Scott said the state is losing Vermonters in the 25 to 45 age range, and the state needs to concentrate on larger economic issues that are driving out people of prime working age.
Scott also suggested that Vermont would be better off adopting the federal exchange. The state’s exchange has cost $70 million to build, while New Hampshire, which adopted an off the shelf web platform and spent $8 million, he said, and it works.
Corren countered that if the state backtracked and went on the federal exchange about 100 standards for insurance would go by the boards.
The state -- the Legislature and the governor -- made a commitment to a single payer system two years ago and the state must move forward.
“It’s decades too late to say we don’t know what we intend to do when the Legislature already decided we are going to have single payer by 2017,” Corren said.
Scott said there is nothing stopping the governor’s office and the Legislature from moving forward, and as the only Republican in statewide office, he thinks it’s important to critically analyze single payer in order to determine whether it is affordable and makes sense for Vermont.
“I think being a skeptic is a good thing,” Scott said. “I think someone has to bring up these issues so we don’t leap into something that’s going to be detrimental to the state.”
2022 Election Briefs
- Update voter registration by Aug. 31 to guarantee mailed ballot, secretary of state says (August 25, 4:15 pm)
- Bernie Sanders endorses David Zuckerman’s bid for lieutenant governor (August 1, 6:14 pm)
- 2nd poll shows Becca Balint well ahead of Molly Gray (August 1, 5:15 pm)
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