Sanders rallies supporters at Iowa union hall

MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA — Hundreds packed a union hall for a town hall meeting in rural Marshalltown as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign learned of progress toward a major union endorsement in South Carolina.

The United Automobile Workers Local 893 hosted Vermont’s junior senator, where he delivered portions of his rehearsed stump speech before fielding questions from the audience. The labor-friendly crowd was receptive and enthusiastic as the 73-year-old Sanders appealed for them to join the political revolution he his hoping to incite.

“The powers of Wall Street and corporate America and the big money interests are so powerful that … the only way we defeat them … is when millions of people are united and are standing up and saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” Sanders said. “If I win this thing, let me tell you, I’m gonna be back the day after the election because I can’t do it alone.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the UAW Local 893 hall in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the UAW Local 893 hall in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The self-described democratic socialist blasted the $7.25 per hour minimum wage, calling it “a starvation wage.” He said a Sanders administration would seek a $15 per hour minimum wage as some cities have done.

“That is exactly what we should be doing at the federal level,” he said.

Sanders also decried the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that was rejected by the U.S. House on Friday, saying it would lead to further outsourcing of American jobs. Continue reading

Sanders opens first Iowa office, criticizes Clinton’s record

DES MOINES, IOWA — Sen. Bernie Sanders opened his first state office in Iowa Saturday as his campaign gears up to battle Hillary Clinton in the Hawkeye State’s February caucus.

Several dozen supporters, volunteers and the handful of staffers running the new office, just a few feet down the hall from Clinton’s Iowa office, listened to the self-described democratic socialist outline some of his differences with the former First Lady, New York senator and secretary of state.

Vermont’s junior senator was critical of Clinton, who held a large kick-off rally with thousands of supporters Saturday on Roosevelt Island in New York City, for her voting record and avoiding a strong stance on some issues.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office in Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

“I voted agains the war in Iraq, and I think history will absolutely record that as being the right vote. Secretary Clinton voted for it,” Sanders said.

He hailed the U.S. House’s rejection Friday of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and faulted Clinton for not taking a clear position, saying “You can be for it, you can be against it, but I don’t understand how you can have no opinion on this issue, and sadly, that is the secretary’s position.”

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VIDEO: Sanders town hall in Des Moines

Sen. Bernie Sanders held a town hall meeting at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium on Friday, June 12, 2015. Watch video from the event below:

Sanders fills auditorium in Des Moines

DES MOINES, IOWA — Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh off a strong showing in a Wisconsin straw poll, began a weekend trip to the Hawkeye State Friday night by delivering a rousing version of his stump speech at Drake University.

Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator, is looking to maintain the momentum he has seen at recent campaign events in Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota. The self-described democratic socialist remains far behind Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, New York senator and secretary of state in the Democratic primary, according to national polls.

Clinton is holding a formal campaign kick-off event in New York City Saturday and is then expected to make her own trip to Iowa.

Sanders, meanwhile, has been attracting large, enthusiastic crowds at campaign events since formally announcing his bid for the White House in Burlington, Vt., late last month. With his more than $6 million in contributions since his announcements, Sanders has emerged as the most credible threat to Clinton, polling well ahead of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at Drake University's Sheslow Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa.

Last week, Sanders had a surprisingly strong showing in a straw poll at the Wisconsin Democratic convention, earning the support 41 percent of the delegates to Clinton’s 49 percent.

Sanders, who filled the 773-seat Sheslow Auditorium, thrilled the crowd with the same message he’s been delivering to Vermonters for decades.

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Sanders begins weekend swing through Iowa

DES MOINES, IOWA — Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh off a strong showing in a Wisconsin straw poll, will begin a weekend trip to the Hawkeye State this evening with a town meeting at Drake University.

Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator, is looking to carry on the momentum he has seen at recent campaign events in Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota. The self-described democratic socialist remains far behind Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, New York senator and secretary of state in the Democratic primary, according to national polls.

Clinton is holding a formal campaign kick-off event in New York City on Saturday and is then expected to make her own trip to Iowa.

Sanders, meanwhile, has been attracting large, enthusiastic crowds at campaign events since formally announcing his bid for the White House in Burlington, Vt., late last month. He has emerged as the most credible threat to Clinton, polling well ahead of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

The Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines. Sen. Bernie Sanders will be in Des Moines and other Iowa cities this weekend to campaign for the White House.

The Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines. Sen. Bernie Sanders will be in Des Moines and other Iowa cities this weekend to campaign for the White House.

Last week, Sanders had a surprisingly strong showing in a straw poll at the Wisconsin Democratic convention, earning the support 41 percent of the delegates to Clinton’s 49 percent.

Friday’s town hall meeting is the first of several events Sanders will hold in Iowa this weekend. He will host an open house at his Iowa campaign headquarters Saturday morning, followed by another town meeting at the United Automobile Workers Local 893 chapter in Marshalltown. Saturday night Sanders will deliver the keynote address at the Hawkeye Labor Council AFL-CIO Steak Fry in Cedar Rapids.

On Sunday, Sanders is holding a town meetings in Waterloo and Iowa Falls, and will attend the Warren County Democrats 12th Annual Summer Picnic and Town Meeting in Indianola.

Full coverage of Sanders’ weekend events will appear in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Montpelier Times Argus.

Welch says he won’t take long to decide on gov bid

MONTPELIER — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch says he plans to make a decision soon on whether he will give up his seat in Congress to run for governor.

Welch, now in his fifth term as Vermont’s sole congressman, emerged as a potential candidate following Gov. Peter Shumlin’s surprise announcement Monday that he will not seek a fourth term in 2016. Welch, a former state senator, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1990.

Welch, 68, said in an interview Thursday he continues to enjoy serving in Congress. Despite the Democrats’ minority status, Welch said he has recently managed to push legislation into law, including energy efficiency requirements and funding for the National Institute of Health.

Rep. Peter Welch

Rep. Peter Welch

“I have a great job and I love doing this job. I find myself part of a group down here that’s trying to make this institution work and I’ve been able to establish good relationships with my Republican colleagues that benefit Vermont,” he said. “I could be very happy continuing to serve Vermonters right here.”

But, “circumstances change,” Welch said. With Shumlin vowing to bow out of politics, a return to Vermont and another bid for governor could be in the best interests of Vermonters and himself, according to Welch.

“It causes me and others to stop and pause and ask the question of what is best for Vermont,” he said. “You deal with the circumstances that exist and the big opportunity in public service is that you get to serve, it’s not that you dictate the terms of how you get to serve.”

Serving as a member of Congress is “a totally different job and totally different situation” than serving as governor, Welch said. But the challenges in Washington, D.C., and Montpelier are similar — “trying to build an economy that works for middle-income families,” he said.

“It’s really hard on middle-income families to make ends meet,” Welch said. “My focus, in all of my political career … has been a focus on trying to make sure the middle income families have a shot. The jobs are different but the objective and the orientation I’ve had has been the same, and that’s been true from the state Senate to Congress.”

A return to living full-time in Vermont could perhaps sway the Windsor County resident to leave Washington and launch a bid for governor.

“Of course I would like to be back in Vermont. Every week when I get home I get off the plane and it’s just relief. My emotional life is in Vermont. I work in Washington, I love my work, but my heart is in Vermont,” he said.

Welch said he has been “fully absorbed” in his current job and had not thought about a gubernatorial bid until Shumlin’s Monday announcement.

“When you step back, you realize that this decision by Gov. Shumlin was stunning and surprising,” he said. “It sets off an anxiety among politicians about who will run for what.”

Most pundits believe that the plethora of Democrats considering a bid, including House Speaker Shap Smith and former state senator and unsuccessful candidate for governor, Matt Dunne, will await Welch’s decision before making theirs. Should Welch decide to run for governor there could be a shift in focus that leads to a mad dash for the congressional seat.

Welch said his decision will come “sooner rather than later.”

“It’s really a personal process of giving consideration to where I can best serve,” he said. “Obviously, talking to my family is a big part of the process.”

Welch said he expects other candidates to determine their own futures regardless of what he does. “We’ve got a lot of good Democrats. We’ll have no shortage of democrats for any office that is open,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Capitol Beat with the Governor 6-09-15

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Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks to Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami about his decision, announced Monday, to not seek re-election in 2016.

Gov. Peter Shumlin discusses his decision to not seek re-election in 2016 on the Capitol Beat podcast.

Gov. Peter Shumlin discusses his decision to not seek re-election in 2016 on the Capitol Beat podcast.

Potential candidates for governor abound

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin’s surprise announcement Monday that he will not seek re-election throws the 2016 gubernatorial election wide open — and several candidates on both sides of the aisle say they are interested.

A potential surprise candidate emerged Monday when former Shumlin Chief of Staff Bill Lofy told the National Journal that Democratic Congressman Peter Welch “would be the prohibitive favorite” if he were to jump into the race. Welch has served as Vermont’s lone representative in the House since 2006, and has handily won re-election every two years.

Rep. Peter Welch

Rep. Peter Welch

Welch Chief of Staff Bob Rogan said Monday that Welch will consider his options and has not ruled out a run for governor.

“It’s likely Congressman Welch will seek re-election to Congress but this news comes as a surprise so he will be taking the time he needs to thoughtfully consider how he can best serve Vermonters,” Rogan said.

Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith made clear after the legislative session ended last month that he wants to be governor. But Smith said at the time that he did not want to run in a primary against Shumlin.

“I was pretty clear that I was not running … a primary against the governor. I was also pretty clear that I was interested in running for statewide office. So, it does change the dynamic,” Smith told reporters Monday.

Smith said he and Shumlin have worked together for years “for years trying to make sure that the state of Vermont could be an even better place than it is now and I think that we all owe a debt to Peter for his great work as governor.” He credited Shumlin for his response to the devastating impact Tropical Storm Irene had on Vermont.

Smith said he will consult with many people before deciding if he will launch a campaign for governor.

House Speaker Shap Smith

House Speaker Shap Smith

“I need to spend some time talking with my family first and foremost. This would be a really major decision for our family life. I acknowledge that and I want to make sure that they’re on board with it. I also want to talk to friends and Vermonters to see whether they think it’s a good idea for me to run for governor,” Smith said.

As someone who has never appeared on a statewide ballot, Smith could face a challenge with name recognition.

“I think that we all think that we’re better known than we are. I do find myself on occasion in other parts of Vermont where people say, ‘You’re that speaker guy, right?’” he said. “I don’t think any of us should overestimate how many people know us.”

Meanwhile, former state senator and current Google executive Matt Dunne, has made clear that he’s also itching to return to the Vermont political scene as governor. Dunne, who was part of the five-way Democratic primary in 2010 that Shumlin eventually won, said he plans to consult with his wife, Sarah, as well as his past supporters, before making a decision.

“As I shared with people during the campaign five years ago and more recently, there’s no better job in the world than to represent the people of the state of Vermont and to be able to have a role in helping to move the state forward,” he said. “I will absolutely be considering a run for governor. I’ve been flattered by the large number of phone calls and text messages and Facebook messages and emails I’ve received this afternoon and will take time to talk things over with Sarah and a number of people across the state of Vermont before making a decision.”

Dunne, who is the head of community affairs for Google, said he is not setting any time frame for announcing his decision.

Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne

“I’m not going to set a hard date. It’s going to depend on making the time to have that conversation with Sarah and my kids, who are old enough to be aware of what a campaign means this time, as well as touch base with folks who have supported me in the past and others who have just reach out to me today,” he said.

Doug Racine, a former lieutenant governor and candidate in the 2010 Democratic primary, could also consider a bid. He was fired as secretary of the Agency of Human Services last year by Shumlin.

A number of Republicans have been considering a run — even against Shumlin if he were to run again. But Monday’s announcement by the governor may make the prospect of running even more appealing.

At the head of the pack is Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican and a member of Shumlin’s cabinet, who said last week he is considering a run for governor. Scott, known for being an affable politician but one who has not yet had to take strong policy stands as lieutenant governor, said he intends to decide his political future over the next several weeks. Monday’s announcement, he said, will not impact that decision.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

“Certainly it was a bit of a surprise, coming today, but as I’ve said consistently, whether the governor decided to run or not run will have no bearing on my decision making,” Scott said. “I’ll contemplate this over the next few weeks.”

Scott said he wants to be governor if the situation is right.

“Sure. I think that given the right circumstances, if I think that I’m the right person to lead Vermont and can help in some way, and my family and business will survive this, then I want to be governor,” he said. “It has to be more than about you. It has to be about others and the whole of Vermont.”

The lieutenant governor was not at Monday’s announcement and said Shumlin did not tell him before making the public announcement.

“I understand. Politics is what it is. I’m not surprised. This obviously had to be a tough decision to make and he wanted to share it with those closest to him,” Scott said.

Former State Auditor and Sen. Randy Brock, who was soundly beaten by Shumlin in 2012, says he may also seek the governorship.

Randy Brock

Randy Brock

“I’m certainly considering running again and been talking with people over the past several weeks and have some more to do. It’s something I’m considering but no decision has been made. It’s a decision that will be made over the summer,” he said.

Brock said any potential candidate “needs to declare relatively early because there’s a lot of work to be done, not the least of which is significant fundraising challenges.” Shumlin’s announcement, Brock said, will not sway him in either direction.

“It was always a possibility, and probably a real one after the 2014 election, that Gov. Shumlin would not run again,” he said.

Scott Milne, meanwhile, who lost a razor-thin election to Shumlin in November, said he has not yet determined if he will again seek the office. He said be believes “t’s a good move by Peter to step aside.”

“I believe Vermonters are more aware now than at any time this decade just how bad things are, and how much needs to change in order to save Vermont,” he said. “Whether as a candidate, or as a citizen helping good people get elected in 2016, I am looking forward to the campaign trail again.”

Now that the race for governor features no incumbent, more candidates could explore the idea of entering the race.

Shumlin said during his afternoon announcement that he will work to support the Democratic nominee in 2016.

“I’m going fight to ensure that whoever takes my place as governor is a Democrat with the values and priorities to build upon, rather than undermine, the extraordinary progress we have made,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Shumlin says he will not seek re-election in 2016

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Monday afternoon that he will not seek reelection, and will instead return to his hometown of Putney to resume his role in his student travel business.

The announcement was made at the State House Monday, shortly after he informed his staff and cabinet members of his decision. Many of his current and past staff stood behind him as he told reporters of his plans.

“I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for a fourth term in 2016,” Shumlin said, after listing what he considers the successes of his tenure as the state’s chief executive.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, with current and former staff behind him, announces Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2016.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, with current and former staff behind him, announces Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2016.

“I reached this decision after a lot of thought and consideration. It is the honor of my life to serve as Vermont’s governor. I want to serve in this role until I feel confident that we have accomplished what we promised to do. By January of 2017, I believe we will have done just that. We’re making tough decisions, we’re taking some risks, and we’re getting a lot of good done for the state of Vermont,” he said. “I decided to make this decision now because I want these next 18 months in office to be focused entirely on continuing the work we started together. And we have a lot left to do.”

The announcement follows a tough re-election fight in November, in which Shumlin received a slim-plurality of the vote against Republican political neophyte Scott Milne. Because Shumlin did not receive a majority of the vote, lawmakers had to formally elect him on the first day of the legislative session in January.

Shumlin said he intends to end his political career when his term expires, and “will not be going to Washington.”

“I have always thought that the right time for a governor to serve is six years. It’s just always the way I have looked at it. I thought that as my third term was evolving, as often happens in life, my perspective might change. It never did,” he said. “I have never wanted to be a full-time politician. I know I’ve told you this before and it’s been greeted with eyes of disbelief, but I’ve never had any desire to live in Washington, D.C., to serve in Congress, to serve in anybody’s cabinet. I truly ran for governor because I wanted to make changes to the state that has given me so much, and then go back to private life.”

Shumlin noted Monday that his administration has boosted the state’s infrastructure, cutting the number of structurally deficient bridges in half. He said his administration has slowed the growth in hospital budgets, and reduced the number of uninsured Vermonters by half. And he has begun to move Vermont away from the current fee-for-service payment model to one that pays health care providers based on health outcomes.

Additionally, Shumlin said his administration has helped the state’s most vulnerable by increasing the minimum wage, and providing more free meals at school to students in need. And, Shumlin said, his administration has altered the way the state deals with its opiate addiction problem.

Gov. Peter Shumlin returns to his ceremonial office in the State House after announcing that he will not seek re-election in 2016.

Gov. Peter Shumlin returns to his ceremonial office in the State House after announcing that he will not seek re-election in 2016.

“When I took office, we politely averted our eyes to opiate addiction in our front yards while we feared and fought treatment centers in our backyards. Today Vermont is one of the most innovative states in treating opiate addiction as the disease it is, saving lives and giving hope, jobs, and a future to those who are suffering while reducing incarceration rates and making our state safer,” Shumlin said.

The governor’s surprise announcement will certainly change the political landscape. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican and a member of Shumlin’s cabinet, said last week he was considering a run for the governor. He was not at Monday’s announcement.

And Democratic Speaker of the House Shap Smith told the Vermont Press Bureau after the legislative session ended last month that he wants to be governor, but did not want to run in a primary against Shumlin. Meanwhile, former state senator and current Google executive Matt Dunne, is also rumored to be considering a run.

Shumlin said he would work to ensure a Democrat succeeds him.

“I’m going fight to ensure that whoever takes my place as governor is a Democrat with the values and priorities to build upon, rather than undermine, the extraordinary progress we have made,” he said.

Now that the race for governor features no incumbent, more candidates are likely to explore the idea of running.

Shumlin said he plans to continue pushing for his agenda until his current term expires. He will push for an all-payer waiver from the federal government to transition the state to a new payment model for health care. He also promised to continue reforming the criminal justice system and focusing on opiate treatment. And, he said he would push for ending childhood homelessness, passing paid sick leave, and expanding renewable energy projects in Vermont.

A full story will appear in Tuesday’s editions of the Rutland Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Same-day voter registration signed into law

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill into law Monday that will allow voters to register to vote on Election Day beginning in 2017.

The same-day voter registration bill, S.29, makes Vermont the 14th state to allow last-minute registration. Advocates say it will boost voter participation in elections.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signs same-day voter registration legislation into law Monday.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signs same-day voter registration legislation into law Monday.

“It’s so important because for the greatest democracy in the world, the number of people who vote in elections is lower than it should be and hurts our democracy because it’s so low,” Shumlin said before signing the bill at Montpelier City Hall. “One thing that we all know is that if you give folks access to voting, not barriers to voting that have become so fashionable is state after state in America, but access to voting, the numbers go up and democracy is healthier as a result.”

Until Jan. 1, 2017, voters in Vermont must be registered to vote on the Wednesday before an election if they want to cast a ballot. Allowing voters to register at the polls as improved participation where it is already allowed, Shumlin said.

“The numbers all show that with same-day voter registration the numbers go up anywhere from 7 and 14 percent. That is a huge accomplishment to ensure that our democracy remains healthy,” he said.

Many town and city clerks around Vermont have been opposed to the idea, believing it will lead to administrative problems. Clerks expressed concern in testimony to lawmakers that voters could potentially vote in two locations, or perhaps register in the wrong district.

But Montpelier City Clerk John Odum said it will remove a barrier that has prevented some people from voting.

“From my perspective as a clerk it’s, in a sense, a small thing, because this is what we do. This is what we do as Americans. It’s our birthright to choose our leaders, to make our decisions, and this is what we do as clerks,” Odum said. “We are responsible for maintaining a trustworthy system that puts as little interference between Americans exercising that birthright as possible.”

Others, including some lawmakers, have been opposed because they believe it will lead to voter fraud. Voters will be able to register at the polls on Election Day without identification.

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said voter fraud has not been a problem, however.

“It’s nonexistent. It really doesn’t happen. The really true voter fraud is when someone is denied the right to vote,” Condos said.

“This is a voters’ rights bill,” he added. “We have more issues, more times where people are denied and they’re eligible, they’re denied the right to vote, than voter fraud.”

House Speaker Shap Smith, a strong proponent of the new law, said many states are looking to restrict voters’ rights. Vermont’s new law should serve as example, he said.

“Throughout history we have seen the way that you restrict the rights of people who are without power and that is by restricting the right to the ballot box,” Smith said. “This is an important step in the right direction, the direction that we should be going throughout the country, and when many of my colleagues are working to restrict access to the right to vote, I am proud today to have a bill go in to law that allows people easier access to the right to vote. That should be happening around the country. It’s not.”

The law will take effect in 2017 to give clerks time to familiarize themselves with a new statewide voter checklist system. It also allows the new policy to take effect after the 2016 presidential election when voter turnout is expected to be high.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group and other advocacy groups were strong advocates for the law.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Shumlin claims exchange victory

WINOOSKI — Gov. Peter Shumlin and his health care reform team said Monday they have met a key deadline in implementing a core function to Vermont Health Connect and plan to continue improving the online health insurance marketplace through the fall.

“Having Vermont Health Connect work as it was designed to is the best possible outcome for Vermont. There’s no question that the biggest challenge that we’ve faced since we launched is change-of-circumstance,” Shumlin said at a news conference Monday. “We set a deadline of today … and I’m pleased to announce that this team behind me and some who aren’t here have delivered.”

Shumlin said the upgrade of the site to include change-of-circumstance, the ability for customers to have their personal information changed online, meets the first of two self-imposed deadlines he laid out in March as he faced mounting pressure about the exchange’s performance. The upgrade, which is still being phased in by the administration, will allow customer service representatives to make changes to consumers’ accounts in an automated way.

The process until Monday required staff to make manual changes to accounts and sometimes included more than 20 different people to complete the process, according to Cassandra Gekas, operations manager for the exchange. Now, staff will be able to condense what was up to a two hour total process — and because of backlogs could take months to complete — should take about 10 minutes and be reflected on users’ accounts at the next billing cycle.

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Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller speaks to reporters Monday while Gov. Peter Shumlin and other state officials look on.

“It means that we now have the capability, the tool, to be able to change your circumstance when things change for your insurance. And the outcome of that, as we get it up and running, will be a much smoother system that has been evading us since we launched,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin promised the change-of-circumstance function would be operational by the end of May. He also promised that an automated renewal process would be in place by Oct. 1. The state’s main contractor, Optum, will now turn its attention to the second milestone, Shumlin said.

The promises in March followed a host of missed deadlines and technological setbacks since the exchange launched. The exchange, created under the federal Affordable Care Act, has never performed as expected and been a source of frustration for customers, the administration and lawmakers.

Shumlin said in March that failing to meet the goals would result in the state transitioning to an exchange run by the federal government, or perhaps a state-federal hybrid model. Shumlin said Monday his administration would continue to work with Optum and the two insurance carriers — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care — that offer plans on the exchange to improve the site.

“There is no better solution for Vermont than to have our website work. Full stop. If there were the ability to partner with other states or state to solve our problems, we would have done that already,” the governor said. “We have been … incredibly frustrated by getting to this point and the point we need to be at for enrollment Oct. 1. But the best outcome for Vermont is to have their own website work and that’s what I will continue to try to achieve.”

The change-of-circumstance function is only being partially unveiled, however. For now, customers will need to continue to call customer service staff or fill out an online form to request a change to their personal information. The ability for customers to make their own changes online will not be allowed until October, officials said.

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Shumlin admin to offer all-payer waiver request by end of June

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin says the state’s preliminary application for an all-payer waiver to level reimbursements to health care providers among all payers will be submitted by the end of June.

A universal, publicly-financed health care system is off the table. And Shumlin’s grand plan to pump additional funds into Medicaid through a $90 million payroll tax was ignored by lawmakers. But the administration has been making steady progress on another major reform in health care — changing the payment structure.

An all-payer waiver will allow the state to move forward with an ambitious plan to eliminate the current fee-for-service payment model that pays providers for each procedure and replace it with a system that pays providers on the quality of care they provide and the health outcomes of their patients.

Gov. Peter Shumlin

Gov. Peter Shumlin

“This is taking Medicare, Medicaid, private pay, in other words our entire payment system, and moving it to one where we literally pay our providers for keeping us healthy and giving them skin in the game,” Shumlin said in a recent interview. “It’s a revolution in the way we pay for health care. They get paid for keeping you healthy not for the number of things they do to you.”

State officials say if Vermont obtains the waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, all insurance plans will pay the same amount and providers will have an incentive to work collectively to have the best health outcome that is not paid for based on the number of tests and procedures performed.

Currently, Maryland is the only state operating under an all-payer waiver, and has been doing so since the late 1970s. But Maryland’s system only sets Medicaid rates for hospitals. In Vermont, the goal is to take it further and include primary care providers and specialists as well as hospitals.

“What we’re talking about in Vermont is doing it with everybody, including Medicare, which is, of course, where the bulk of our money is,” Shumlin said. “It really is a very, very significant conversation.”

Officials with CMS will visit Vermont in the next couple of weeks to work with state officials on its application. The process requires rolling at least two waivers into one document that the state and federal government can agree on. Shumlin said his administration will have the document completed by the end of June, and the state should have an idea this fall whether the project is feasible.

Vermont currently has a Medicaid waiver to spend federal matching dollars outside of more rigid federal regulations. That waiver, known as the global commitment waiver, has been around since the administration of former Republican Gov. James Douglas, but it expires at the end of 2016.

The state’s application will also include a Medicare waiver that will allow it to spend Medicare funds outside the current regulations. However, “In no way does the state take control of Medicare money,” says Al Gobeille, chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board, the state’s health regulatory body.

Al Gobeille

Al Gobeille

“They are such substantially different waivers. What Medicare would be willing to do is relax its payment rules so we could tell them ahead of time how we’re going to do our rules and set our standards of care to meet their measures,” he said.

Completing the state’s preliminary application will only begin a long process of reforming the health care payment system in Vermont, Gobeille said. Once the state and federal governments come to terms, physicians will also have to buy in. Gobeille said the will take its plan to providers and ask them, “What do you think?”

“That begins a whole process of making sure that this is a good idea,” he said.

There are plenty of ways the project could crumble, though, both Shumlin and Gobeille said.

“My take is we’re going to negotiate with the federal government. There’s a possible chance that we could walk away and then maybe next year we try again. I’ve been clear with the governor and the legislature that if we don’t get something that’s a good idea … for both sides then we should exercise caution,” Gobeille said. “I don’t know if this is a good idea or bad idea yet until I know what the federal government is willing to do.”

Shumlin said he is worried about the ability to level out payments from all payers in a way that is fair.

“It could fall apart … at any time because it’s all fine to have everybody sitting around and agreeing that the current system is broken and we’ve got to fix it. The fight’s going to come when start talking about who gets paid what,” he said.

The state’s health care systems — hospitals and their subsidiaries — have varying interests based on their size and location. Shumlin said balanced those interests will be difficult.

“Here’s where this thing could fall apart — who is the person or people that controls the money? Let’s be honest, if it’s the big hospitals you lose all of the little folks. If it’s the little folks, the big people distrust. So, we have a huge project ahead to find an objective, transparent, trustworthy process that everyone can believe in or it will never work,” the governor said.

Reforming the payment system is crucial, though, to bending the cost curve in health care, he said.

“We’re all dead if we don’t get this one right because it will bankrupt us,” Shumlin said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Sanders to hold campaign kick-off Tuesday in Burlington

MONTPELIER — Sen. Bernie Sanders will hold a formal campaign kick-off event for his presidential bid on Tuesday at Burlington’s Waterfront Park, his campaign announced Wednesday.

Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator in Washington, has already filed to become a candidate, but plans to announce his candidacy along the shore of Lake Champlain in the city where his political career began as mayor in 1981. The independent promises free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and live music.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

“My hometown of Burlington and the people of Vermont have a special place in my heart. There is nowhere else in the world where I would hold an event this important,” Sanders said in a statement.

The self-described democratic socialist is sure to provide many of his trademark assaults on the “billionaire class” and the income inequality he says is plaguing America.

“The formal kickoff will set the stage for the campaign to come. I will lay out an ‘Agenda for America’ which addresses the major crises we face and a vision of a government which works for all of our people and not just the billionaire class,” Sanders said.

The even will take place at 5 p.m. along Burlington’s waterfront. It will be moved to Memorial Auditorium in Burlington in the event of rain.

Sanders’ campaign announced he will then travel to New Hampshire, the site of the nation’s first primary, on Wednesday, before heading to Iowa, site of the first presidential caucus, on Thursday.

State to move out-of-state inmates to Michigan

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Department of Corrections says the state’s prison inmates being housed out of state are going to be moved to Michigan.

The department said Tuesday it had signed a contract with the GEO Group to house the inmates at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan.

Currently Vermont is housing 319 inmates at facilities in Kentucky and Arizona. That contract expires June 20. The department will begin transferring the inmates to Michigan soon.

The new two-year, $30.4 million contract with GEO will save the state about $2,055 per inmate per year. The state says GEO will provide “comprehensive correctional management services,” including offender rehabilitation programs.

For years Vermont has sent a number of inmates to out-of-state facilities to alleviate overcrowding in the state’s prisons.

Rate increases sought by BCBS and MVP

MONTPELIER — The state’s two health insurance providers offering individual and business plans on Vermont Health Connect have submitted requested rate increases to the state for next year.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and has requested an 8.4 percent increase in rates, while MVP Health Care is asking for a 3 percent average rate increase, according to the Green Mountain Health Care Board, the state’s regulatory body for health care issues.

In its filing with the GMCB, BCBS said state and federal mandates are a significant reason for the rate increases for its federally qualified health plans, as well as rising medical and pharmaceutical costs.

“In the absence of mandated changes associated with the Affordable Care Act, a 5.3 percent increase would have been requested,” BCBS wrote in its filing.

Actual rate increases, depending on health plans, range between 4.7 percent and 14.3 percent for BCBS. The changes will impact about 41,000 customers and amounts to about $29.4 million in higher premiums, according to the filing.

“We recognize that this increase is likely to be difficult to absorb for many individuals and small businesses who receive their coverage through qualified health plans, and we have done everything we can to reduce it, without risking access to quality care in the state,” BCBS President and CEO Don George said in a statement. “Unfortunately, a key factor contributing to premium growth has not changed. The Medicaid and Medicare cost shift continues to burden privately insured Vermonters with a disproportionate amount of health care cost increases.”

Increases requested by MVP, meanwhile, range between a decrease of 1.8 percent and an increase of 27.3 percent. The 27.3 percent increase is for the company’s catastrophic health plan.

MVP has a much smaller customer base, however, so the changes will impact 3,324 customers and lead to $951,000 in higher premiums paid.

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday said the increases are higher than he would like. But the increases sought for health plans on Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace created under the federal Affordable Care Act, are lower than would be expected for plans outside the exchange, he said.

“Let’s be honest, that’s going to look good compared to what businesses are used to,” he said.

Part of the increase should be attributed to the so-called cost shift, the governor said, where private insurance picks up the cost of low payments to providers by Medicaid and Medicare.

“We keep kicking the can down the road on Medicaid, so the cost shift happens to everyone paying for insurance, including the exchange. That’s private insurance,” Shumlin said.

Lawmakers, who wrapped up the first half of the legislative biennium on Saturday, rejected Shumlin’s plan to institute a 0.7 percent payroll tax on Vermont businesses to address the cost shift. The plan would have raised $90 million that would have been matched by $100 million in federal funds. That money would have allowed the state to boost Medicaid payments and ease the burden on private insurance.

Two public hearings will be held by the GMCB at the State House this summer. The public can comment on the MVP request on July 28 and those wishing to comment on the BCBS request can do so on July 29. The board will make a decision by August 13 on the rates that will take effect Jan. 1, 2016.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com