At hearing, activists press for single payer health care system

May 31, 2012


By Alan Panebaker

For hours Thursday afternoon, advocates pleaded with the Green Mountain Care Board to ensure services are covered under a single-payer health care system.

Members of the Vermont Workers’ Center, a group that supports health care reform, dominated much of the air time.

Some asked that the board ensure coverage of dental and vision under the new health care plan.

Others shared stories of hardships they had experienced in the current health care system.

Donna French, a member of the Workers’ Center, told the board she ended up in the emergency room as a result of chest pains. She was uninsured and faced a $12,000 bill, she said.

“It’s not only stressful to be suffering and not know why but also to have to worry about the health care bill is worse,” she said.

A few skeptics, including Jeff Wennberg, executive director of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, criticized the Shumlin administration for not offering enough substantive input early in the process.

“Vermonters should have been engaged in the scope, pace and structure of health care reform,” he said.

Wennberg’s group has been an active and outspoken critic of the administration’s health care reform efforts.

Vermonters for Health Care Freedom has focused on the financing plan for Green Mountain Care. The Shumlin administration is required to show how a single-payer system would be paid for by January 2013. The group claims the single-payer system will result in the largest tax increase in Vermont history, and it has pushed for a release before the November election.

Wennberg said the expanded coverage for all Vermonters will also lead to reduced access to care.

“The consequence of global budgets and state control will be to restrict access, not to expand it,” he said.

Mary Gerisch, a lay representative on the Greater Bennington Interfaith Council, which has established and supports the Bennington Free Health Clinic, said she sees many patients coming to the free clinic who cannot get care anywhere else.

She said the board should focus on what people need in considering benefits rather than what insurance companies will cover.

“In considering benefits, I think we need to have a paradigm shift because we’re talking about health care, not health insurance,” she said.

Residents asked for coverage of service from comprehensive coverage for transgender individuals, to mental health to services for people with long-term disabilities.

Advocates said the state should first decide what benefits should be covered before it outlines the financing for the new health care system. Critics have argued the opposite point of view: that the state should first determine how to pay for it, citing concerns that increased taxes to pay for the single-payer system would encourage businesses and young, healthy people (who would pay more for health insurance potentially) to leave the state.

The state is holding health care listening sessions throughout the spring to provide benefit design options and gather public input. The next session will be held at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury on June 7 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The Shumlin administration will propose benefits to be included in designing Green Mountain Care as part of the financing plan that will be considered by the Legislature in 2013. The Green Mountain Care Board will have to approve benefit recommendations.