Media, Lobbyists Move Goalposts After VT Health Care Shows Measurable Progress

To summarize: Health care reform makes substantial, measurable progress, and its opponents respond by redefining success. Using a football analogy, we're driving the ball down the field, and the likes of Darcie Johnston - lobbyist, and Vermonters for Health Care Freedoms' perpetual doomsday crier - are moving the goalposts.

The latest bit of good news - couched by our media, as always, in references to the "trouble-plagued" Vermont Health Connect system - came Monday, when state officials announced that nearly 75% of small-business employees are already enrolled in a VHC insurance plan. Health Care Access Commissioner Mark Larson says the state is on track to ensure that no one suffers a lapse in coverage on January 1.

Johnston and her ilk had claimed small businesses were the failure point of Shummycare, with business owners swamped in confusion and employees threatened with lapses in coverage. But now we see that the vast majority are already good to go.

A caveat: Many small businesses opted to deal directly with insurers, rather than enrolling online through VHC.

Either way, health care reform is working. Small businesses may not have used the website, but they've chosen insurance plans that are defined and regulated by the state. Those plans aren't riddled with exclusions and high deductibles. Pre-existing conditions are covered. That's the real substance of reform. The website was always simply a tool. A tool that didn't initially work as it should, but is now being fixed.  

The response of reform opponents, naturally, is to redefine failure.

Randy Brock, after his initial (and highly touted) judgment that "the system doesn't work," has remained silent on the subject*. Johnston, on the other hand, can still be relied upon to issue strident statements, but the substance keeps getting thinner:

''The best thing that Vermont Health Connect did was they got out of the way. Remember, businesses wouldn't have been in this mess if it hadn't been for their spectacular failure,'' she said. ''They've still forced businesses to make decision and choices that may or may not be what they wanted to do and may or may not be the best for their business or their employees.''

Aha. She can no longer claim that the system is doomed to collapse, or that thousands of Vermonters will be stripped of coverage; now, her definition of failure is that businesses have been forced to make decisions "that may or may not be what they wanted to do."

Don't we all, every single day, have to do things that "may or may not be what [we] wanted to do"? We wear sweaters because it's cold. We have to wait for the traffic light to change. We pay our phone bills, and, of course, taxes. And some of us have had to choose a health plan that might not have been exactly what we "wanted to do."  

Under the old "system" many had to settle for overpriced, lousy health insurance - or go without. Even if it wasn't what we "wanted to do."

Johnston's predictions of disaster continue to recede into the future as well. Earlier this fall, she said that Vermonters were being "forced off a cliff" and would suffer "irreparable harm." As recently as last week, she was predicting large numbers of people would suffer lapses in coverage on January 1. Now, that number is April 1, when she warns that "the state will see a spike in the rate of uninsured Vermonters" because "these are not affordable plans."

This, in spite of the fact that many more Vermonters will be insured than before, that all insurance plans will at least be halfway decent, and there will be some prospect of controlling runaway costs.

If that's a "failure," Vermonters will definitely want more.

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