Vt. Health Care Efforts Hinge On Supreme Court Decision

12/07/11 7:34AM By Bob Kinzel
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(Host) This winter, the U.S. Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of President Obama's health care plan.

Vermont officials say Governor Peter Shumlin's efforts to implement a single payer system in the state could hinge on how the Court rules.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The U.S. Supreme Court has allocated 5 and a half hours to hear arguments in this case -a time frame that's much longer than typical cases.

Cheryl Hanna is a constitutional law professor at Vermont Law School.

(Hanna) "If the Court were to strike down either part or all of the health care legislation it could really have significant consequences for the state of Vermont in its desire to move forward with single payer health care."

(Kinzel) Hanna says one key decision facing the Court is whether or not the individual mandate of the law is constitutional.

(Hanna) "If the Court strikes down the individual mandate as unconstitutional the third question they're going to have to ask is whether or not if that piece of the legislation falls the entire law falls or whether or not they can sever the individual mandate from the rest of the law."

(Kinzel) Hanna says most complicated laws contain a severability clause. She says there was one in the original version of this law but she says it was inadvertently left out of the final version:

(Hanna) "So maybe by a pure accident of history there's no severability clause which means that the Court is going to have to decide whether the individual mandate is central to the legislation, whether congress intended it to be central to the legislation or whether or not the rest of the law could work perfectly fine without the individual mandate."

(Kinzel) Anya Rader Wallack is the chair of the Green Mountain Care Board, a group that now oversees virtually every aspect of health care in Vermont.

She says if the Court strikes down the entire law, Vermont will lose tens of millions of dollars from the federal government. This money is being targeted to pay for a variety of administrative services and to provide money for premium subsidies.

(Rader Wallack) "So it's the federal money that's really a big deal to making our plan work. If they strike down the entire law then it takes way a lot of the resources we're hoping to use for Vermont's plan."

(Kinzel) And Rader Wallack says it will be extremely difficult for Vermont to proceed on a path to single payer without the federal money.

(Rader Wallack) "If we did it as one state on our own we could do it in a budget neutral manner which would be very hard or we could do it by raising additional revenues within the state which would be very hard."

(Kinzel) The Court is expected to issue its decision during the summer of 2012.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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