12/19/2014 03:40 pm ET Updated Dec 19, 2014

Vermonters Burn Medical Bills To Protest Governor's Single-Payer Decision

Activists gathered Thursday at Vermont's state Capitol to protest Gov. Peter Shumlin's (D) decision to drop the state's planned conversion to a single-payer health care system, according to The Associated Press.

Shumlin said on Wednesday that it was "not the right time" to enact single-payer health care, three years after he signed Act 48, a bill aimed at establishing universal insurance coverage by 2017. At the time, Shumlin said that a new single-payer system, to be called Green Mountain Care, would help control health care costs. The governor now says that he could not justify the projected tax increases associated with the plan and that the federal government hadn't provided enough funding to make the transition feasible.

To demonstrate their anger over his decision, activists burned medical bills they said they could not pay and delivered a plate of burnt toast to Shumlin's office, suggesting that his political career had been irreparably tarnished.

"Time and again I’m forced to choose whether to meet my medical needs or pay other bills," protester Stauch Blaise told fellow activists at the event, according to the AP. "Governor Shumlin has burned all of us by bailing on universal health care, and now it’s time for the legislature to assume leadership and follow through with Act 48."

Demonstrators chanted, "Which side are you on, Shumlin?" and "Shame on Shumlin!" The governor was not at his office when they delivered the burnt toast.

Shumlin may have made the calculation that he doesn't have the political capital to go ahead with single-payer: he nearly lost his re-election in November, and so the legislature will decide who will be the next governor in the new year.

The Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign called Shumlin's decision "a slap in the face of many thousands of Vermont residents who suffer from poor health and financial hardship," in a statement this week. The grassroots group argued that he’s still obligated to implement single-payer unless the law that he signed in 2011 is repealed. The National Federation of Independent Businesses offered the opposite reaction after Shumlin's announcement, saying in a statement it was "pleasantly surprised" and now wanted the legislature to repeal the law.

Conservatives delighted in Shumlin's decision, attributing it to "Grubergate," or the GOP-driven fixation with comments made by Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economics professor and health care consultant, which surfaced recently. Vermont terminated Gruber's consulting contract with the state as congressional Republicans highlighted his comments about the relative intelligence of American voters.



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