Watching Vermont

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board December 26, 2011 07:17 pm

Vermont has gotten our attention.

And it has nothing to do with maple syrup.

Or ice cream.

We’re curious, rather, about that state’s attempt to show that universal health care is attainable in the U.S.

A group visited Baker City last week to promote Vermont’s first-of-its-kind program.

Their enthusiasm, though palpable, doesn’t answer the key question: How to pay for supplying health insurance to people who don’t have it now?

Apparently Vermont is still working on its answer.

Promoters, though, say informal surveys show that most Vermonters favor “broad-based” tax increases.

Siphoning more money from the private sector, even for an ostensibly worthwhile purpose, is a risky move in an economy that remains sluggish.

Nonetheless, the supporters’ claim that a universal system will ultimately cost taxpayers less certainly is plausible.

Even defenders of America’s current system must concede that caring for the millions of uninsured is a terribly expensive subsidy that inflates the cost for those who have insurance.

In theory, giving those people access to regular preventive care would reduce their trips to the emergency room.

Vermont might be the ideal laboratory.

The state’s population of about 650,000 is second-smallest, trailing only Wyoming.

Subjecting California’s 40 million residents to this experiment — or even Oregon’s 3.8 million — would likely be more complicated.

The Beaver State has of course had noteworthy success with its Oregon Health Plan, a sort of ultra-light version of Vermont’s program.

At the least, Oregon has proved that it’s possible to extend health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people who couldn’t afford it.

We’ll be watching with considerable interest to see whether Vermont can bestow that benefit on everyone within its borders.