Tag Archives: Peter Shumlin

The Dangerous Drift of Vermont’s Health Care System

When he was governor, Peter Shumlin made a big push on health care reform. It didn’t end well for reform or for Shumlin. Since then, the system has become less functional and more expensive but there’s been no appetite for another push.

With one major exception, and that’s OneCare Vermont. It has soldiered on in its effort to rein in health care costs by paying providers for outcomes rather than treatment. It has spent a tremendous amount of money, but so far there’s not much evidence of impact.

That’s troubling, and it’s more so when you read VTDigger’s piece about the latest Green Mountain Care Board meeting. Beyond that, there’s a broader critique of our health care system in a recent series of essays by journalist and health care policy analyst Hamilton Davis. Taken together, it looks like a huge sector of our economy (upon which our physical and financial well-being depends) is drifting along with a bunch of people who call themselves “Captain” staying as far away from the helm as they can.

The Digger article makes the leaders of OneCare look like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. The GMCB, especially its new members, were asking questions that shouldn’t have been tough to answer. For instance, do you have any evidence that your system is working? Can you point to measurable results in terms of cost savings or improved outcomes?

OneCare leaders seemed to be taken aback by this line of questioning.

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Why is the Scott Campaign Trying All of a Sudden?

Gov. Phil Scott’s re-election campaign has been sleepwalking through the 2022 campaign, barely bothering to raise money and spending very little.

Until now.

The Scott campaign’s recent financial disclosures show that, with very little time remaining, Team Scott has seriously kicked it into overdrive.

Between October 27 and November 4, the Scott campaign filed five Mass Media spending reports, totaling $63,471. That’s more than they’d spent on mass media in the entire cycle before then. The media buys break down like this: $45,086 for TV, cable and streaming ads, $1,142 for Facebook ads, and $7,513 for newspaper ads.

In the six weeks before that big splurge, the Scott campaign had spent less than $10,000 on mass media.

Why spend so much so late? In fact, almost too late? The impact will be limited because so many have already voted. Did they get a bad poll?

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Phil Scott Might Not Enjoy a Fourth Term So Much

Gov. Phil Scott has, in many ways, lived a charmed life in the corner office. There haven’t been any scandals — or at least none that have been uncovered by our anemic press corps. He has, by general acclamation, kept his image as Gov. Nice Guy in spite of his outbreaks of verbal dyspepsia in press conferences and All Those Vetoes. And his greatest challenge has come with an incredible upside.

That would be the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused huge disruptions but was actually a strong net positive for the Vermont economy. A flood tide of federal relief aid meant there was no need for tough budget battles in the Statehouse and there was plenty of capacity for new investments. The money had the usual multiplier effect on disposable income, economic activity, and tax receipts. The latter eliminated any budget pressure that might have been left over from the direct federal infusions.

He had to make some tough calls on controlling the pandemic, for which he got plenty of praise and almost none of the criticism he, at times, deserved. Overall, the pandemic made his job a hell of a lot easier.

This isn’t the first time a crisis has elevated a governor. The high point of Peter Shumlin’s tenure was the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, when he got to look strong and resolute and was able to throw money around and be a hero without anyone asking any inconvenient questions. Given the rest of his record, I wonder what we’d find if somebody did a deep dive on the Irene response, but that’s water under the bridge, pun intended. And Dick Snelling is fondly remembered for accepting tax hikes in order to pull Vermont’s economy out of the gutter, and not so much for being an asshole.

But that tide of federal aid is starting to recede, and budgets are about to get very tight around these parts.

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The Money Race: Gubernatorial

Second in a series on the July 1 campaign finance reports. The first installment covered the race for lieutenant governor.

We’re livin’ in an upside-down world, I tell ya.

There are six campaigns for statewide office. Second from the bottom, from a fundraising perspective, is the race for governor.

Yep.

Gov. Phil Scott and Brenda Siegel have raised a combined total of $82K. The only cheaper campaign is Auditor Doug Hoffer’s bid for re-election. He has raised precisely zero dollars in the past year. He carried forward a $1,115 surplus from 2020; he’s spent $862 of that, including a $200 donation to the Vermont Democratic Party. I guess he’s not worried about taking on H. Brooke Paige or whatever patsy the VTGOP digs up to take Paige’s place.

Otherwise? The six candidates for lieutenant governor have raised a combined $324K, including a paltry $16K for the two Republicans. The two Democrats running for attorney general check in at $154K. The three Dems competing for Secretary of State have raised a combined $120K. And good ol’ MIke Pieciak, running all by his lonesome for the Democratic nomination to succeed Beth Pearce, has raised $106K.

Meanwhile, the race for governor tootles along below the radar.

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Après Balint, La Sécheresse

The Vermont Senate’s seniority-heavy lineup is about to become a serious problem. That’s because current Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, seen above possibly contemplating the task of herding the caucus cats, is leaving the Senate to pursue a bid for Congress. And win or lose, she won’t be in the Senate beyond this term.

Which means the Senate will have to replace her no later than next January. And I’m here to tell you exactly how shallow the talent pool is. And that’s because so many senators have overstayed their sell-by dates.

Out of the 30 senators, a full 16 are basically too old to step into the top spot*. They’re not necessarily too old to be effective lawmakers, but they’re clearly on the downslope and I doubt that any of them would even want the job.

*For the record: Brock, Clarkson, Collamore, Cummings, Kitchel, Lyons, MacDonald, Mazza, McCormack, Nitka, Pollina, Sears, Sirotkin, Starr, White.

Before I get accused of ageism, let me expand on that cold assessment. Most of the senior senators are comfortable in their roles. They are not looking to take on a new level of responsibility. Heading the Senate caucus is a big, troublesome job. You’re always putting out fires or facing the press or twisting a fellow senator’s arm. It’s also something you tend to take on when you’re set on climbing the political ladder, not when you’re fat and happy.

Look at the last several Pro Tems. John Campbell was 47 years old when he assumed the office. Peter Shumlin and Peter Welch were in their primes, and clearly had their eyes on higher positions. There were a couple of short-time Republicans in the mid-90s; John H. Bloomer served from 1993-95; Stephen Webster succeeded him for a single term. Bloomer was 63 when he became Pro Tem; he had had a successful political career and would certainly had continued if he hadn’t been killed in a car crash in January 1995. Webster was 52 when he succeeded Bloomer; he would continue his political career well beyond his time as Pro Tem.

Before them, and four years of Peter Welch, there was Doug Racine, a relative youngster when he became Pro Tem. Tim Ashe was in his early 40s, and Balint was 53. All these folks, save Webster, were far younger than today’s cohort when they led the chamber. It’s no job for old men. It is a job for the ambitious. Of the past seven Pro Tems who survived their tenures, only two (Webster, Campbell) did not seek higher office. And Campbell got the job largely because of his lack of ambition; senior Senators had a very free hand under his, cough, “leadership.”

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Racine Mulls Run for Governor

Doug Racine, the former lieutenant governor, state senator and Human Services secretary, is considering a third run for the state’s top job. Racine had been considering a candidacy for lieutenant governor, but that field has gotten crowded. He told methat as he was gauging potential support for an LG run, he was encouraged to set his sights higher.

His willingness to run, he said, depends on assurances that he’d have the necessary support from state and federal Democratic donors and organizations. “The question is, is it a viable race or not?” Racine said. “The answer depends on the level of support.” He said he’s getting “a lot of enthusiasm” for his potential candidacy, but “that doesn’t pay the bills.” Especially since, he pointed out, the Republican Governors Association has spent millions on behalf of Gov. Phil Scott in 2016 and 2018.

Although, he said, there’s bit of uncertainty on that front. “I don’t know if Trump would let them” spend on Scott’s behalf, Racine said. “Phil is not the most popular guy in Republican circles.”

“Others who have explored a run for governor have something to lose,” he noted. “I’m retired. It’s not like I’d have to leave my job.” That’s a very real consideration for many — especially since a race against Scott is a risky endeavor.

The 69-year-old Racine was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2002; he lost narrowly in a three-way race with Republican Jim Douglas and independent Con Hogan. He sought the party’s nomination again in 2010, but lost a squeaker of a five-way primary to eventual governor Peter Shumlin, whose margin of victory was a mere 197 votes. He was Shumlin’s human services secretary from 2011 to 2014.

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It’s Shitkicker Time

Way, way back in January 2015, I proposed an addition to then-governor Peter Shumlin’s executive team: the post of Shitkicker-In-Chief. “The duties would include pointing out the flaws in administration reasoning, deflating egos when necessary, and the occasional loud guffaw,” I wrote.

Despite his brush with electoral disgrace in the 2014 election, Shummy quickly reverted to the kinds of bad habits that helped derail his once-promising administration: “One of his worst is his almost-complete inability to admit that he was wrong about something — even if it’s something trivial. It makes him appear small-minded, overly defensive, duplicitous, and condescending.”

Gee, that sounds a hell of a lot like his successor, doesn’t it? Phil Scott, the former Nice Guy, is now prone to dismiss any questioning of his Covid policy, make demeaning remarks about those who disagree with him, and make transparently false statements. (His latest: his contention that he hasn’t changed his position on emergency housing when, in fact, he’s shifted considerably from his former demand that the program be ended by a date certain.)

So, it’s time for Scott to hire a shitkicker. He needs someone willing to tell him inconvenient truths such as “You’re wrong” or “That’s stupid” or “Bullshit, Mr. Governor.”

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We’ve Got an Overflow in the Moral Sewer of Vermont Politics

Something stinks around here, and it looks like the Powers That Be are scrambling to keep anyone from identifying the source of the stench.

For those just tuning in, tonight’s VTDigger brings us the happy tidings of an agreement between federal prosecutors and Bill Stenger, one of the defendants in the EB-5 fraud case. The two sides have agreed on what evidence will be presented in Stenger’s case… and in exchange, Stenger’s lawyers won’t force a whole bunch of well-connected Vermonters to testify under oath.

See, Stenger’s defense had argued that state officials knew about the fraud long before it was publicly revealed and did nothing to stop it. Given the contents of a recent document dump, it’s clear that Team Shumlin knew a great deal and did their best to keep it under the rug. So their appearances under oath would have been at least embarrassing and perhaps incriminating.

The Vermonters in question include former governor Peter Shumlin and at least five top officials in his administration. They would have taken the stand next week, so this deal is a last-minute reprieve for these worthies. And yet another roadblock in the path of public disclosure. This fraud goes back at least a decade, and we’ve still only seen the faint outlines of official complicity.

Imagine, just for shits and giggles, Shumlin takes the stand and his testimony is at odds with the evidentiary record. Or he ducks the questions and pleads the Fifth. Not a good look, that.

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Boo This Man

It’s possible, in this moment of his ultimate disgrace, to feel just a little bit sorry for ex-governor Peter Shumlin. From fall 2014 to summer 2015, he endured three separate political de-pantsings — any one of which could have felled a lesser man in his tracks. First, his near-defeat at the hands of political outsider (and truly terrible campaigner) Scott Milne; then, having to admit failure in his signature push for single-payer health care; and then, in the spring of 2015, finding out that the Quiros/Stenger EB-5 projects were built on fiscal and ethical quicksand.

That said, his governorship will have to go down in history as singularly disastrous.

We know this now because of the dogged efforts of VTDigger to unearth a trove of documents kept secret by state officials. Its pursuit of the EB-5 White Whale was rewarded last week by a federal judge’s ruling that the documents must be made public.

And now, after poring their way through the docs, Alan Keays and Anne Galloway have published one of the most damning political pieces in recent memory. They recount how Shumlin and his team knew by the spring of 2015 that the EB-5 projects were fundamentally fraudulent and doomed to collapse… and yet they kept on flogging the projects for a full year. Their efforts only ended in the spring of 2016 when the feds launched a massive civil suit against Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros.

That’s bad. But Keays and Galloway document a variety of ways in which the story is even worse than that dreadful topline. Let’s run the highlights, shall we?

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BCBS Makes Everyone’s Lives Miserable to Save a Little Coin

This won’t be news to any BlueCross BlueShield health insurance client, but the Blues did something this year that added fresh levels of annoyance to the lives of patients and providers throughout Vermont.

The Blues made a big change in its prescription drug coverage. It hired Optum RX as its pharmacy benefits manager. Which led to new, stricter requirements for a broad array of prescription medications. This will presumably save the Blues some money, but it will do so by offloading a lot of pain and extra work onto patients and prescribers.

(Before I go on, tip of the hat to fellow blogger Matt Sutkoski, who posted his own screed on this topic a few days ago. I’d been thinking about this for quite a while, but his essay crystallized my own thoughts.)

If you heard the ringing of a faint bell at the name “Optum,” that’s because it was a key player in then-governor Peter Shumlin’s Vermont Health Connect fiasco. Step with me into the Wayback Machine, which is set for October 31, 2014 — just a few days before the election Shumlin almost fumbled away to challenger Scott Milne.

On that day, we learned that the cost of VHC would be $20 million higher than expected. And that, my friends, was not the bad news. There were a number of horrible particulars, some of which involved Optum. Its employees were said to be poorly trained and making mistakes. A top VHC official observed that Optum had every motivation to let the work drag on and on, because the longer the project the more money it made.

So yeah, a corporation with some definite baggage in these parts.

What is Optum doing to, ahem, Optum-ize the Blues’ prescription drug coverage?

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