- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 31, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Gov. Peter Shumlin’s director of health reform said Wednesday that the timing of the governor’s decision to abandon plans to make Vermont the first state in the country with a universal, publicly funded health care system wasn’t politically motivated and he characterized the federal government as the biggest barrier to the plan.

In a meeting with reporters, Lawrence Miller and other administration officials discussed financing reports that led Shumlin to abandon his long-sought goal this month, prompting criticism from some business interests who questioned the timing of the decision after the Democrat had won election to a second term.

Shumlin announced Dec. 17 he was dropping the proposal, saying it would have required tax increases too big to impose on residents and businesses. The risk of economic shock was too great at a time when the state had not fully recovered from the recession and had declining revenue forecasts.

Miller said Shumlin’s staff didn’t have the complete analysis of financing a universal health care system until after the Nov. 4 election.

“We were working toward completing something straight through early December,” he said. “The sense of disappointment when the final analysis came across was really dismal. It was a tough day.”

The state had expected to get $150 million more in federal help to put the Green Mountain Care system in place and an additional $150 million in Medicaid assistance. Under the plan, the system would cover an estimated 519,000 Vermonters in the first year at a cost of $4.3 billion and 538,000 in the fifth year at a cost of $5.2 billion.

Miller said the amount the federal government would have contributed to the plan and the federal requirements to operate a universal system were the greatest obstacles.

“If we were able to come in on a system basis at a better spot with higher federal participation, I think this is something that we would have recommended,” Miller said. “I really feel that the transition risks though at this point in time are just overwhelming and a substantial amount of more work needs to be done.”

After Shumlin announced his decision, some critics suggested he knew more than he said he did before the election. The Vermont chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business said it knew years ago that a single-payer model would be disruptive to the state’s economy.

In a statement Wednesday, the chapter’s state director, Shawn Shouldice, said the group “finds it incredibly hard to believe that Gov. Shumlin and his staff didn’t have a clear understanding until ‘post-election’ that single-payer health care wouldn’t have an enormous impact on small businesses all across Vermont.”

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