The Governor prepares a soft landing

Is Peter Shumlin starting to act like a lame duck? It would seem so. To judge by this week’s paltry trinkle of news, he looks to have one eye fixed on the past and the other on his post-gubernatorial future. And he’s already given up on fixing one major debit in his administrative ledger.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, Shumlin opposes any tax increases to pay for Vermont’s burgeoning Medicaid bill, but he doesn’t want to cut eligibility or benefits either. In fact, he’s washing his hands of the whole mess.

“I don’t know which governor is going to get to solve this problem,” he added. “But I hope a governor gets to solve it soon.”

“…once I’m safely ensconced in the private sector with my lissome new bride,” he might have added under his breath.

Yeah, screw the 2016 session. The Governor, you see, proposed a Medicaid fix last year and the Legislature ungratefully rejected it. So he’s done his duty, and hereby washes his hands of the matter.

You might recall his proposal for a payroll tax, which he sprung on the Legislature in his January budget address and then watched as it slowly sank beneath the waves.

It was just the most recent instance of a recurring theme throughout his administration: announcing a major proposal with great fanfare in January only to witness its death of a thousand cuts under the Golden Dome. (See also: proposed cuts in Reach Up and the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the slow-motion death rattle of single-payer health care.) From the outside, it appeared as though he did little to prepare the ground for his big ideas, and did almost as little after their introduction to overcome legislative obstacles.

It’s funny in a really sad way, since one of Shumlin’s great strengths as Senate leader was his ability to keep a finger on the pulse. He lost that golden touch upon his ascension to the corner office, and it only seemed to get worse as time went on. Which is One Neat Trick for squandering a historic opportunity with one-party control of the legislative and executive branches.

Well, to be fair, he didn’t squander it. He just failed to accomplish nearly as much as he could have. Just as a f’rinstance, the tax system and state government itself badly needed reinvention in an age of diminishing revenues and an increasingly stingy job market. Instead, it’s been five-plus years of patch-and-fill, with another year in prospect.

Speaking of accomplishments, the day after Shumlin disavowed any responsibility for a Medicaid fix, his administration unveiled its effort to write the first draft of history: a website chronicling all the positive aspects of Shumlin’s governorship.

Including plenty of graphs with conveniently limned Y-axes, dramatizing the progress and minimizing the setbacks. Or ignoring them altogether; “single payer health care” was relegated to the dustbin of his bespoke web designer’s vocabulary.

Granted, the Governor has had some notable accomplishments. Strides have been made in energy policy. The social safety net has been preserved or even expanded in tough budget times. Some economic progress has been made in the face of strong headwinds. Health care is available to many more Vermonters, and Vermont Health Connect seems, finally, to be on track to success.

There’s more as well. But when I look at the golden opportunity presented to the Democrats in the 2010 election and extended through two more election cycles, it’s hard not to be underwhelmed. The Democrats earned a genuine mandate that afforded them the chance to introduce real change — while remaining basically immune from the short-term political blowback involved in taking radical steps.

Some of the responsibility belongs at the feet of our ever-timorous lawmakers, who were basically safe from electoral challenge but still acted as if any hint of bravery would result in an overwhelming backlash. But Shumlin was the leader, the executive, and he gets the lion’s share of the blame.

His “2016 State of the State” website makes the case for Shumlin as a successful, pathbreaking Governor. It tells part of the story from a single point of view.

Will it help to define Shumlin’s legacy? Naah.

And neither will the 2016 session, if the Governor continues to dodge the tough issues and shift responsibility elsewhere.

4 thoughts on “The Governor prepares a soft landing

  1. NanuqFC

    Shap deserves some of our disappointment in Democratic “leadership.” About the only thing he stuck his neck out for was marriage equality. He was quite willing to continue the drive to cut services for the poor, sick, disabled, and elderly rather than ask the rich to pay a fair share.

    So, yeah, right on about Shummy, but Shap never stepped out in front for real change, either.

  2. newzjunqie

    Was taken aback at the bright idea to remove the most healthy from VHC rolls by expanding Dr. D to age 26-27 ??? Hey – yhats a pushin 30 for crimace sakes! Just guessing but this also would have raised costs for all by corralling the next less-healthy group with olderish sicker ppl.

    Income adjusted poor, those on public assistance & SSI already have Dr D for their kids up to 18 or 19, so it would have given a break to the wealthy and highest earners in VT removing them from parents VHC policy.Good job folks! As a double whammy it may have attracted a migration of that age group esp from surrounding areas as well as including college age out-of-staters newly eligible until graduation. While there are a few openings for somewhat higher paying jobs most are lower paying service jobs. So a younger person who is already working in that ‘field’ would save thousands by coming to VT plus a higher min wage. VT would then have a fantasticly vibrant ski-bum community. When maryjane is legal cottage industry of growers.

    How many more nutty things do we wish to be famous for we should be asking ourselves. Never ceases to amaze what our “lawmakers” and “leaders” will cook up next.

  3. Cynthia Browning

    The problem of low Medicaid reimbursement rates that made it hard for doctors to serve Medicaid patients and the problem of insufficient funding for Medicaid benefits were there when Shumlin took office. They are worse now. But instead of addressing those difficulties as part of implementing the ACA the Governor and Speaker Smith chose to pursue the Holy Grail of “single payer” without revealing how THAT public insurance program would be paid for. To have the Governor now lecture about how important it is to have proper funding for benefits programs is just so ironic, when he himself refused to reveal how he would fund “single payer” as provided by law. Providing benefits or promising benefits without sufficient funding proposed or in place is fundamentally irresponsible in terms of the state budget. And it is also a betrayal of the very Vermonters that the programs are intended to support.

    We need thorough budget and tax reform to get costs in line with revenue and to ensure that all Vermonters pay a fair share of all state costs, including Medicaid. If Smith and Shumlin had concentrated on this, as they could have, they would have done a better job of setting the state’s budget on a sustainable path and moving towards a simpler, more effective, and more equitable tax system. I think they blew it: they did not pursue reforms as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission that they created. I think that they thought they would do tax reform as part of financing “single payer”, Together they proved once again that it is easy to promise benefits and hard to pay for them, and that is why you have to show how you will pay for them up front.

    Shumlin is trying to wash his hands of the problems that he himself created. But the stains of irresponsibility won’t come out.

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington

  4. newzjunqie

    It’s my understanding that facilities designated as Federally Qualified Health Centers recieve the full frieght for Medicaid reimbursement, I think there’s like at least 6-8 in VT. So it’s the physicians that are not, that are the losers here. Another ‘rural hospital’ designation is available but unsure if they also get the fully freighted costs covered.

    Hospitals have been or are buying up surrounding practices & now have a monopoly on primary care in some if not all areas which has greatly increased the cost of services, when in fact it should have reduced the cost. By turning health care professionals into dual-role middle managers for the hospital greatly increases their control This benefits the hospital not the patient.

    Physicians are now staffers with a roster of “teams” & are now mere hospital employees of who operate as agents similar to a car dealership w/each individual ‘practice’ not unlike a ‘sales and service’ outlet for the hospital. Pressuring their ‘customers’ many of whom know very little about their care, and options available, to recieve the most costly of all options esp in diagnostic testing, just as car dealerships do with your car. Head honcho is a ‘CEO’ rather than an adminstrator with the mid to high six-figure pay and in some cases seven figs which does not include compensation package but salary I believe. As do the GMCB and all of those connected with VHC including insurance company “CEOs”. We are saving nothing in this system only the deck chairs have been rearranged. Legislature should figure out how to cut these costs which would right this sinking ship.

    Complete outrage when trimming these expenses would balance the books for Medicaid reimbursement. Hospital associations operate as nonprofits who donate to legislators, complete with the paid lobbyists which also has the effect of keeping costs high. Personally I would like to see these monopolies broken up by paying independent family practices the full frieght cost as there are fewer. This would also encourage private practices and to to stay in the state. To “encourage patients to shop around” is a big joke and huge laugh in light of the GMCB basially telling Hoffer to back off of a website comparing all costs for different services.

    Also the hospitals are running patient care using an ACO model by greatly increasing the rationing of care then pocketing the savings which is another potential windfall that private practices do not have.

    Hospitals are gaming the system & with aid of lobbyists who have greatly spun and mischaracterized the issue for their own benefit when clearly looking at the aforementioned any saving is never passed on to their ‘customers’ nor will the higher reimbursement rate. Difficult to feel much sympathy for the hospitals crying poorhouse, including DHMC suing VT when NH Medicaid reimbursement is significantly lower. With the highway robbery many have personally experienced, a low opinion of all players in the game who are gambling with our health care.


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