Vermont Tests Single Payer and the Country is Watching
By Darshak Sanghavi, M.D., and Sarah Bleiberg
KevinMD blog, Jan. 28, 2014
While the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has been criticized by its opposition as “socialized medicine,” it relies heavily on private health insurance. On the other end of the political spectrum is the idea that a government-run single payer system, similar to Canada’s, is the best way to deliver health care. (This is sometimes shorthanded in the U.S. as “Medicare for All.”) However, this system has been believed politically impossible here—until now. In May 2011, Governor Pete Shumlin of Vermont signed into law “An Act Relating To A Universal And Unified Health System,” House Bill 202 (HB 202), establishing a single payer health care system beginning in 2017. In passing this legislation, Vermont has become a closely watched laboratory for health reform.
What are the pros and cons of a “single payer” system?
In general, single payer health care means that all medical bills are paid out of a single government-run pool of money. Under this system, all providers are paid at the same rate, and citizens receive the same health benefits, regardless of their ability to pay.
There are a number of proposed benefits to a single payer system. Currently, providers must follow different procedures with each of many insurance companies to get paid, creating an enormous amount of administrative work. Under a single payer system, providers might reap significant savings from reduced administrative expenses, and be able to focus more on delivering care. As with Medicare, a single payer system may also give the state stronger leverage to negotiate lower rates for drugs, medical devices, payments to providers and other expenses, resulting in lower overall costs. Additionally, a single payer system provides universal access to health insurance, which eliminates the problem of the uninsured.