I Love Obamacare, Oct. 30, 2013
Cathey Park of Cambridge, Massachusetts, wears a cast for her broken wrist with “I Love Obamacare” written upon it before U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival to speak about health insurance at Faneuil Hall in Boston Oct. 30, 2013. Many residents of the neighboring state of Vermont may be feeling the same way about now, given Green Mountain Care’s failure to launch. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Single-payer health insurance -- the only coverage option less popular among conservatives than Obamacare -- suffered a setback last week, and it could be fatal. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin admitted the state can’t afford Green Mountain Care and shelved it.

“I have always made clear that I would ask the state to move forward with public financing only when we are ready and when we can be sure that it will promote prosperity for hard-working Vermonters and businesses, and create job growth,” Shumlin said in a press release Wednesday. “Pushing for single-payer health care when the time isn’t right ... could set back for years all of our hard work toward the important goal of universal, publicly financed health care for all.”

Launching Green Mountain Care, which was likened to Medicare for all, would have required a double-digit percentage payroll tax on businesses and as much as a 9.5 percent assessment on individuals’ incomes to pay the premiums.

“These are simply not tax rates that I can responsibly support or urge the Legislature to pass,” the governor said. “In my judgment, the potential economic disruption and risks would be too great to small businesses, working families and the state’s economy.”

Shumlin had made a single-payer health-care system a cornerstone of his re-election campaign as a way to provide affordable coverage and unburden businesses. He blamed the decision to shelve the program on an inability to contain costs.

Reaction to Shumlin’s decision was swift. Betsy Bishop, head of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, said her group will go further, pushing to overturn state mandates requiring businesses to buy coverage on the state’s health-insurance exchange, the Vermont Press Bureau reported. She said businesses were relieved by Shumlin’s decision.

“Our members were concerned that single-payer could have added significant costs of doing business, forcing them to make negative employment decisions,” she said.

More than 50 people participated in a Vermont Workers’ Center rally Thursday on the Statehouse steps, burning health-care bills and collection-agency notices, the Vermont Press Bureau said. One of the demonstrators set fire to a sign reading, “Now is not the time.”

“Time and again, I’m forced to choose whether to meet my medical needs or pay other bills,” the Associated Press quoted Randolph resident Stauch Blaise as saying. “Just last week, I had to forgo care for my foot because of my deductible and co-pays. Governor Shumlin has burned all of us by bailing on universal health care, and now it’s time for the Legislature to assume leadership and follow through.”

Supporters of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign demonstrated Shumlin’s career “is toast” by delivering a platter of toast.

Dr. Deb Richter told Vermont Public Radio Shumlin’s decision is not the death of of the single-payer movement. “We’re going to need a slower phase-in of this,” Richter said. “And I think trying for the whole thing all at once was what made it impossible, or made it more difficult to do.”

Shumlin said he and his team didn’t realize earlier that the system was untenable because of overly optimistic revenue assumptions. He said a belief the federal Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, would result in $400 million in annual revenue for the state by 2017 did not appear likely to be reflected by reality. The state also will not get $150 million in Medicaid funds on which it had been counting. Slow recovery from the recession also was a factor.

Darcie Johnston of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom said he was not surprised by Shumlin's decision.

“We’ve always believed the financing didn’t work. It didn’t take ... millions of dollars to figure that out,” he told Vermont Public Radio. “And we’re glad. We think he’s done the right thing. But there’s still more work to do. We still need to make sure that patients have choice and competition.”