Attorney General T.J. Donovan this week filed a lawsuit on behalf of State Auditor Doug Hoffer to force OneCare Vermont, which manages the state’s all-payer health care system, to disclose the payroll information for all the company’s 60 employees, right down to the janitor. The lawsuit is intended to make it look as if they are acting on behalf of the taxpayers, ferreting out information being withheld, which is not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. For both Mr. Donovan and Mr. Hoffer, the request reflects their need for political gain.
The lawsuit reads, in part: “OneCare’s dominant role related to the delivery of health care in Vermont and its receipt of significant public dollars requires transparency and accountability,”
OneCare CEO Vicki Loner responded: “OneCare has met our contractual obligations and we don’t understand why the Auditor believes he is entitled to the personal financial information of each and every one of our employees, including their W-2 and 1099 forms.”
Mr. Hoffer has had OneCare in his sights from the outset. It’s big. It’s complicated. It deals with health care. It affects a lot of Vermonters. It’s one of those issues that for a politician is a never-ending source of self-serving headlines. Mr. Hoffer has made a habit of such ventures; such is his fondness for attention.
The problem with Mr. Hoffer’s claim and Mr. Donovan’s supporting lawsuit — aside from the fact that the information has already been provided — is that it raises all sorts of questions for OneCare and any other business that has a signed contract with the state of Vermont. For example, virtually all of the Agency of Human Services contracts include the same language as the state’s contract with OneCare. Does the auditor have the right to ask each business with a state contract for the names, rate of pay, and benefits for each employee? If the University of Vermont Medical Center has a contract with the state for Covid-19 related work, can the auditor ask the medical center for the payroll information for all its 10,000 employees? If businesses thought the auditor could, or would, solicit that information, would the business participate? Are the employees of those vendors to understand that their names and rate of pay are public information?
The effects of Mr. Donovan’s lawsuit and Mr. Hoffer’s political pursuits could have sizable consequences; did they consider the implications?
To understand just how political Mr. Hoffer’s request of OneCare is, consider the fact that it’s the Green Mountain Care Board [GMCB] that has the regulatory authority over OneCare. The GMCB needs all cost-related information from OneCare to oversee its annual budget proposals. OneCare has given the board the salaries of its senior executives — the top 12 of the organization. It then submitted to the board and to the auditor “pay bands” and benefits information for the remaining staff. Instead of listing each employee and his or her pay level, they lumped them together. The total — salaries/benefits — would be the same whether lumped together or listed singly.
So why the third-degree by Mr. Hoffer? And why the buy-in from Mr. Donovan?
Mr. Hoffer is on the far left of the political spectrum and Mr. Donovan is perhaps the most politically ambitious office holder Vermont has. The far left believes the only acceptable answer to health care reform is a government run, single-payer system. For them, OneCare is a major obstacle to their pursuit. For those who challenge OneCare, Mr. Hoffer and Mr. Donovan, the far left is supportive.
The irony is that OneCare is as close to a single payer system as one can get. It’s as progressive as we can get. It shifts the system from being fee-for-service based, to a system supported on a per capita basis. It focuses on wellness. Hospitals profit the healthier their client base becomes. It is an easier way to control the cost of health care. If it fails, we retreat to what we’ve always had, which is not sustainable. It’s also understood that Vermont will never embrace a single-payer health care model. We tried that. Ask former Gov. Peter Shumlin.
It’s regrettable that Mr. Hoffer and Mr. Donovan are pursuing a obstructionist path, one that is costly, both in resources and time. It’s regrettable they are setting a precedent that could affect other vendors with the state. They have left OneCare with no choice but to oppose Mr. Donovan’s law suit. With vigor.
by Emerson Lynn