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As Health Marketplaces Open, Vt. Eyes Bigger Goal

By DAVE GRAM

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) a¿¿ As states open insurance marketplaces amid uncertainty about whether they're a solution for health care, Vermont is eyeing a bigger goal, one that more fully embraces a government-funded model.

The state has a planned 2017 launch of the nation's first universal health care system, a sort of modified Medicare-for-all that has long been a dream for many liberals.

The plan is especially ambitious in the current atmosphere surrounding health care in the United States. Republicans in Congress balk at the federal health overhaul years after it was signed into law. States are still negotiating their terms for implementing it. And some major employers have begun to drastically limit their offerings of employee health insurance, raising questions about the future of the industry altogether.

In such a setting, Vermont's plan looks more and more like an anomaly. It combines universal coverage with new cost controls in an effort to move away from a system in which the more procedures doctors and hospitals perform, the more they get paid, to one in which providers have a set budget to care for a set number of patients.

The result will be health care that's "a right and not a privilege," Gov. Peter Shumlin said.

Where some governors have backed off the politically charged topic of health care, Shumlin recently surprised many by digging more deeply into it. In an interview with a newspaper's editorial board, he reversed himself somewhat on earlier comments that Vermont would wait to figure out how to pay for the new system. He said he expects a payroll tax to be a main source of funding, giving for the first time a look at how he expects the plan to be paid for.

The reasons tiny Vermont may be ripe for one of the costliest and most closely watched social experiments of its time?

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