Scott not sold on exchange report, will outline plan in budget address

MONTPELIER — Gov.-elect Phil Scott says a recent report recommending that the state stick with Vermont Health Connect has not necessarily changed his belief that the state should abandon the exchange as he prepares to outline his path forward later this month.

Gov.-elect Phil Scott speaks to the Vermont Press Bureau about Vermont Health Connect on Monday, Jan. 2. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

Gov.-elect Phil Scott speaks to the Vermont Press Bureau about Vermont Health Connect on Monday, Jan. 2. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

Scott, a Republican who will be sworn in as Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin’s successor on Thursday, promised during his campaign against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter that he would seek to join the federal exchange or partner with other states, while shuddering Vermont Health Connect. The Strategic Solutions Group, an independent party hired by the Legislature to determine whether the state should stick with or abandon the exchange, released its report just before Christmas.

The report noted the state’s exchange has “significant deficiencies” and more work is needed if it is to be sustainable. But it also asserted that sticking with Vermont Health Connect is preferable to the solutions Scott proposed during the campaign.

In an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau Monday, Scott said he will outline his plan for the state’s exchange in his budget address later this month. But the report has not necessarily changed his mind, he said.

“I’m not sure that report has change my feelings,” Scott said. “What I got out of the report, and we’re still getting into more of the details, but they substantiated that the system we have now is severely flawed, is not sustainable and is not meeting the needs of Vermonters because of the poor service and so forth. The not sustainable part is something that I spoke about during the campaign, that it wasn’t going to be able to continue in its present form.”

Scott said the team he has assembled — incoming Agency of Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille, incoming Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Cory Gustafson and several budget committee members — are “evaluating every possible situation and possibility.” Scott signaled that he may be willing to back off his assertion during the campaign that the exchange must be scrapped entirely.

“We may want to take advantage of some of the working parts that’s there, but I still feel as though we have to do something different. It may mean working with pieces of the current exchange, but at the same time, I think we have an obligation to continue to look for something or some piece that will give us that accessibility and quality and health care that we can afford,” the governor-elect said.

Meanwhile, Scott said his pending administration is somewhat hampered by the federal government. Republican President-elect Donald Trump has promised to “repeal and replace” the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Doing so could put the state’s entire health care system in jeopardy, and could alter any plan Scott proposes.

“The other unknown is certainly the federal situation that we find ourselves in. I think that’s the part that no one is really sure of at this point in time. It would be difficult to take a step without knowing what the feds are going to do, and the president-elect, in particular,” Scott said.

Nonetheless, Scott said he will outline a path forward in his budget address.

“We owe it to Vermonters to really evaluate every possibility and we’ll be coming up with a plan with the team we have put in place when we release the budget information and give the budget address,” he said. “I think we have to address it, for one thing, because I said we would, so we’re going to follow through on that.”

“We will have some proposal for a plan. We’re developing options ourselves at this point in time. We’ll zero in on the path forward that I will want to propose, or at least a concept of what we’re thinking,” Scott added.

Gov.-elect Phil Scott speaks with the Vermont Press Bureau about Vermont Health Connect on Monday, Jan. 2. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

Gov.-elect Phil Scott speaks with the Vermont Press Bureau about Vermont Health Connect on Monday, Jan. 2. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard)

Scott also suggested the independent report by the Strategic Solutions Group could be flawed. He said the firm also helps fix troubled exchanges, which could have influenced their thinking.

“I think it’s fair to say that, I believe, the group that put together the report is in the business of resurrecting and changing and making that type of exchange more viable. So, they have an interest in doing that, and that’s fine, as well. I’m sure we’ll be hearing from them in the very near future,” he said.

Any path forward proposed by Scott will utilize funding that already exists. Scott said he will not propose any new taxes or fees to help fund the state’s health care future.

“We have limited resources. I don’t want to waste any more money than has already been wasted,” he said. “I’m sensitive to the fact that we’ve utilized a lot of resources over the last few years and they’re limited resources. So we are trying to put something together that will save Vermonters money and utilize our precious resources strategically.”

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