Vermont Discovers the Joys of Federalism

Social Security

It’s pretty safe to say that Vermont is the most hippie-infested state in the union. Thanks to some idiomatic political history, Vermont has a higher percentage of voters who are too far left for even the Democratic Party than anywhere else in the country – as evidenced by the fact that Vermont has an avowed Socialist elected as one of their two Senators, and they have numerous state reps elected representing such parties as the Progressive Party. If you want this illustrated in a funny (yet extremely profane) way, you can click here.

Vermont also came incredibly close in recent years to passing a statewide single-payer healthcare plan on the Canadian/British model, a fight that single payer advocates only lost in January of this year. More to the point, before Obamacare came along, Vermont already had many of the ACA reforms in place, as existing state law made it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions, as well as Medicaid eligibility rules that were more generous than Obamacare’s, and a subsidy system that helped lower income people buy private insurance. In other words, Vermont is a state where people were broadly in favor of what Obamacare was trying to do, except that Obamacare probably did not go far enough.

Then Vermont learned what happens when the Federal government gets its fingers into what ought to be statewide decisions.

Vermont is one of the only 14 states that implemented their own statewide exchange, and did so enthusiastically. Residents and activists in Vermont believed that the success of the ACA would eventually pave the way for implementation of the single-payer system they craved. Unfortunately, now that reality has set in, Obamacare is more unpopular in Vermont than it is almost anywhere else:

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Just a few years ago, lawmakers in this left-leaning state viewed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act as little more than a pit stop on the road to a far more ambitious goal: single-payer, universal health care for all residents.

Then things unraveled. The online insurance marketplace that Vermont built to enroll people in private coverage under the law had extensive technical failures. The problems soured public and legislative enthusiasm for sweeping health care changes just as Gov. Peter Shumlin needed to build support for his complex single-payer plan. Finally, Mr. Shumlin, a Democrat, shelved the plan in December, citing the high cost to taxpayers. He called the decision “the greatest disappointment of my political life.”

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Despite an eventual cost of up to $200 million in federal funds, its online marketplace, or exchange, is still not fully functional, while disgust with the system is running deep among residents and lawmakers alike.

Meanwhile, the hopes for a single-payer system, once tantalizingly close, may be lost for years. Under such a system, the government operates onehealth insurance plan for all residents, covering their medical costs instead of having private insurers do it.

“It’s just been a spectacular crash, really,” said State Representative Chris Pearson, a member of Vermont’s Progressive Party. “We’ve gone from this vision of being the first state to achieve universal health care, to limping along and struggling to comply with the Affordable Care Act.”

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To many Vermonters, the new federal law complicated a state system that had already provided good coverage and muddied the route to an even better model.

“This law, by preserving the private insurance system and treating health care as a commodity, made us do things that Vermont otherwise wouldn’t have done,” said James Haslam, the executive director of the Vermont Workers Center, a grass-roots group that has made universal, government-financed health care its central cause.

If I may be blunt, what did you dopes think would happen? What did you think conservatives and Republicans were saying this whole time about the dangers of a one-size-fits-all system imposed on the whole country? Why did you possibly think the giant, inefficient Federal behemoth would do a better job of administering a healthcare system in your tiny state than the local citizens and government agencies who actually know your people and what they want and what they would prefer?

I know that liberals like to pretend that federalism is just a crutch that conservatives use to get certain regions of the country out of laws they don’t like, but it turns out that federalism has practical, real life benefits in terms of good governance and efficiency. As the founders envisioned, the smaller and closer to its people that a government is, the more responsive it will be to the idiomatic needs of its citizens and the better it will do at meeting those needs – which is why they attempted to reserve a significant amount of government power for the states.

In an ideal world, Vermont would be free to do any cockamamie thing they wanted to do to health care coverage, including bloating their state budget to unsustainable levels with single-payer healthcare coverage. It’s nothing to me; I don’t live there. And if I did, and they passed such a law, I could move to New Hampshire where they have a flag that’s much more metal anyway. But because of the massive encroachment on Federalism (that Vermont supported!), Vermont’s healthcare dreams have been destroyed, likely never to be revived.

Let’s hope that liberals have learned their lesson – but I am not holding my breath.