MONTPELIER -- Gov. Peter Shumlin told lawmakers Tuesday that efforts to improve health care for Vermonters through the new federal overhaul don't go far enough and he renewed his pledge for the state to implement the nation's first universal health care system by 2017.
During a rare gubernatorial appearance before a joint meeting of the health care committees from the House and Senate on the opening day of the 2014 legislative session, Shumlin said that he was disappointed with the problem-plagued roll-out of the Vermont Health Connect website.
About 54,000 Vermonters are receiving health insurance through the site, with help from a variety of stopgap measures while technical problems are being addressed.
"I don't think we can nibble around the edges to fix our health care system," Shumlin said while taking questions from lawmakers after a 20-minute speech in a room packed with health care reform advocates and critics. "And, frankly, the conversation we are having now is about what nibbling we do around the edges."
He outlined a series of steps his administration will take to correct the problems with Vermont Health Connect, but said those problems would not deter his efforts to go beyond the federal Affordable Care Act and implement the nation's first universal health care system in 2017.
He wants the state to launch of what would be a modified Medicare-for-all that would combine universal coverage with cost controls and, as Shumlin has said in the past, ensure health care is "a right and not a privilege."
"We should look at how regressive and unfair the current system is. And we should embark on the path of designing a new system that is built upon equity, fairness, and common sense."
Darcie Johnston, of the group Vermonters for Health Care Freedom and a critic of Vermont's health care reform efforts, said the governor's continued vow to create a single-payer care system is a threat to the Vermont economy if any of the calculations used to plan the system turn out to be wrong.
"It will be cataclysmic to the state, to the budget, to our economy," Johnston said. "We are not an island, we are not a country, we are a state. Vermonters will move."
She said she was in favor of ensuring everyone has access to health care, but she called for eliminating the mandate for individuals and small businesses and to build competition and choice into the health care system.
Shumlin said the new system wouldn't be implemented until difficult questions, such as how to pay for it, are answered. He challenged the lawmakers to help answer those questions, including a public financing system based on one's ability to pay.
"And I have never been more committed to ushering in America's first universal, affordable, publicly-financed health care system right here in Vermont," he said.