Well, if this isn’t the mother of all Friday newsdumps.
After 18 months of headaches caused by Vermont Health Connect, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Friday that he’s prepared to replace the online health insurance marketplace if it fails to meet two new deadlines.
(Note: According to VTDigger, Shumlin first made his announcement on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show. Credit where it’s due.)
Yeezus. I make a little day trip to New Hampshire, and this is what happens? I may never leave Vermont again.
“This is not an attractive option,” Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, Lawrence Miller, said at the press conference.
Miller added that “bubonic plague can ruin your day, and zombies are bad news.”
In the past I have occasionally been guilty of hyperbole, so it’s understandable if you take this with a grain of salt, but…
If Vermont Health Connect fails, it is the end of Peter Shumlin’s political career.
It wouldn’t be the last act; he’d still remain governor for another year and a half. But the abandonment of VHC would be a death blow to whatever’s left of his reputation for managerial competence. And trustworthiness. He will have a simple, stark choice: Serve out his term as best he can, step aside with grace and dignity (and hopefully a big show of unity with a consensus candidate for the Democratic nomination)… or go down in a metaphorical burst of tommygun fire.
Mind, all this is contingent on the failure of VHC, which is far from a sure thing. But given its track record (and the Governor’s), today’s announcement has to send shivers down the spines of everyone who’s invested political capital in the Shumlin Growth Fund.
The song goes like this: assurances of success; bumps in the road; conditional assurances of success; postponements; failures; promises to learn lessons and do better; new plans with later deadlines; fresh assurances; lather, rinse, repeat.
We have just gone from “assurances of success” to “conditional assurances.”
The fallback plan, should VHC again fail to meet functionality targets, is a hybrid marketplace: federally supported but state-regulated. It’s not a terrible Plan B, but it would put the lie to every assurance Governor Shumlin has made about Vermont Health Connect since its launch. It would hand the Republicans a huge quantity of ammunition, and it would permanently sink Shumlin’s managerial reputation.
The Governor’s new timeline:
Shumlin said he would only deploy the contingency plan if Vermont Health Connect is unable to automatically process changes in account information by May or if it’s unable to smoothly reenroll users by October. Even then, the state would not adopt the new system until October 2016, in time for the 2017 open-enrollment period.
Oh great. So if VHC isn’t working by October, then we’ll be activating Plan B right in the middle of the next gubernatorial campaign.
And what if anything — at all — goes wrong? It drags on until after the election. If that happens, it may not matter who the Democrats nominate.
If all that happens, Peter Shumlin will not only go down in history as a failure. He’ll also be the guy who squandered a king’s ransom in political capital for his Democratic Party.