Health care reform: the election issue with no teeth?

Interesting thing happened last week. Vermont CURE, an advocacy group for single-payer health care reform, cut ties with Tess Taylor, the former House Assistant Majority Leader who resigned from the Legislature to sign on with CURE only about six months ago. In the middle of the 2014 legislative session.

Taylor had been brought on board in the expectation that there’d be some heavy lifting to do in the 2014 campaign, and her political chops would come in handy. Seemed like a good bet at the time, and an even better one after a spring and summer full of trouble for Vermont Health Connect. Surely, went the conventional thinking, the failures of VHC would mean trouble for Governor Shumlin.

Well, maybe not. Bram Kleppner, chairman of the V-CURE board, speaking with VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld: 

“We were expecting a strong candidate to oppose Gov. Shumlin. We were expecting a wave of strong  candidates coming in to run against supporters of (single-payer). So we brought Tess on, obviously because of her deep expertise in the Vermont political process,” Kleppner says. “But it became clear to us after the primaries that that political and legislative opposition that we were expecting really just hadn’t materialized.”

So, rather than a campaigning challenge, V-CURE will focus on a PR effort to convince the general public that single-payer is the best way forward. Taylor’s experience is less germane to that.

This ties in with an email chat I recently had with fellow blogger (and former Burlington City Councilor) Ed Adrian. He wanted to know how my blogposts about health care reform were doing in terms of readership. He’d noticed that anytime he wrote about health care reform, his numbers were “dismal.”

So I checked my numbers and found that, for whatever it’s worth, the same is true for theVPO. Health care stories just don’t attract many pageviews.

Now, theVPO’s audience is a very select, and self-selected, slice of the general public: those with a strong interest in Vermont politics. You can’t safely generalize from them to the entire electorate.

But you’d think that, if anything, my readers would be more interested in health care than everybody else.

Ed pointed out that a sizable majority of Vermonters have never had to interact with Vermont Health Connect because they get their health insurance elsewhere. For them, VHC’s failings are basically an abstract concern.

I wouldn’t have placed much value in the pageviews of a couple of blogs. But combine it with V-CURE’s move, and i have to wonder: is health care reform a lot more sizzle than steak? Is it mainly of interest to insiders and the political media?

It’s hard to tell from the course of the campaign to date. Scott MIlne hasn’t made a dent in Governor Shumlin’s armor with his attacks on VHC incompetence; but is that because of the issue, or because of his terrible campaign?

Then there’s Dan Feliciano, who’s gotten a lot of insider buzz with his devout opposition to single-payer. But his fundraising has been terrible and his 48-hour fundraising blitz came and went without any news — which has to mean it was a complete failure. Is he getting anywhere with a frontal attack on single-payer? It’s impossible to tell, since he hasn’t been included in recent polls. But his fundraising numbers certainly don’t reveal any groundswell of support.

There’s reason to believe that the failures of VHC may not be that politically harmful to Shumlin. I suspect that property taxes would have been a better issue for the Republicans. They still wouldn’t have beaten the Governor; but only a small portion of Vermonters have interacted with VHC, while pretty much everybody pays property taxes, either directly or indirectly.

It’s worth pondering, anyway.

1 thought on “Health care reform: the election issue with no teeth?

  1. Sue

    I would suggest that less Vermonters have insurance through their employers than you might think and that VHC is actually working better than the media would suggest. Additionally, people will now complain that the costs are going up next year. It’s not a surprise to me: Folks I know who have never had insurance jumped on this year and proceeded to have every medical treatment done that they’d put off for years. I know one person who had two carpal tunnel surgeries and a knee replacement this year because she finally “had” to get insurance.


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