Editorial: Show Them How in Vermont

In a sense, Peter Shumlin will find himself in the same political situation as the newly elected Barack Obama, only on a smaller scale, when he becomes Vermont’s governor in January.

Like Mr. Obama in January 2009, Mr. Shumlin will become chief executive with an overwhelming majority of his party in both the House and Senate, albeit in Montpelier not Washington. Both men campaigned on a promise of enacting significant health care reform, but we now know what happened to the president’s initiative.

Through a lack of focus or conviction, inexperience in dealing with congressional opposition, over-reliance on compromise with Republicans — for whatever reasons, the federal reform bill became muddled and sausage-like, and the nation watched it being made over a period of months. It wasn’t pretty and it left a sour taste with many voters.

In the end, the bill was a halfway measure, pleasing few. It lacked a Medicare-style single-payer system or alternative public option to control soaring costs and ensure all Americans receive coverage, and it left health care still dominated by costly for-profit insurance. It essentially tweaked the costliest care system in the industrialized world but provided no simple method of ensuring basic care for all.

We also now know how the inconclusiveness of that bill — and the political attacks from all sides it engendered — helped to defeat many Democrats in the November elections and cost them control of the U.S. House.

Vermont’s new governor and the majority Democrats here now have a chance to enact landmark health care reform in this state. They should take the lesson from the president’s experience and push ahead boldly toward a single-payer system, which many say they favor, although details typically are vague.

A Medicare-style system for all Vermonters should be the goal, and this seems like the moment to enact it. And there has to be recognition — and honesty from politicians — that this will cost more in taxes up-front than the current system.

However, such a bill, if one can be devised to mesh with the rambling federal legislation, not only would prove an attraction for young families and single adults thinking about moving to New England, but it would free businesses from most or all of the cost of providing health insurance. This would be especially attractive to small, growing firms, which traditionally provide most of the jobs here and in every state.

Such a health reform also would provide an example and a path for the nation, and establish Vermont as the leader on this critical issue, which the federal government has yet to fully deal with.