Statewide Health Reform Hearing in Vermont Dominated by Human Rights Supporters

Vermont’s Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign mobilized people across the state to testify at the statewide public hearing of H.202, the universal health care bill under review in the legislature. The House Health Committee is expected to bring a revised version of the bill to the House floor this week.

Single-Payer Supporters Dominate Public Hearing
Times Argus/Rutland Herald
By Peter Hirschfeld, Vermont Press Bureau – March 15, 2011

[…] At a public hearing Monday night on the single-payer health care proposal now under consideration in Montpelier, residents from across Vermont used stories of personal tragedy to expose shortcomings in the state’s health care system.

Though a handful voiced opposition to the reform proposal, residents by and large urged lawmakers to move ahead with a plan to deliver universal coverage through a publicly financed system. The testimony will be fresh on the minds of legislators as they prepare to hold a critical vote later this week on the single-payer bill.

“The problem I see in the current system is it does not cover everyone equally at a price we can all afford,” said Diana Scholl, a chaplain who attends to the families of dying patients at Porter Medical Center in Middlebury.

While well-insured patients enjoy unfettered access to the range of hospital services, Scholl said, others are denied treatment that would otherwise alleviate their symptoms.

“This very basic lack of fairness and equity is very hard for health care workers themselves to deal with,” she said. “It has nothing to do with whether drugs or surgery are available — we have it all. It’s just about the money … Health care workers are put in an immoral and unethical position.”

Monday’s hearing was as much a testimony to the organizing power of the grassroots “Health Care is a Human Right Campaign” as it was an indictment of the current health care system. More than half of the people offering testimony to members of the House and Senate committees on health care were affiliated with the campaign, an offshoot of the Vermont Workers’ Center.

The campaign is urging lawmakers to adopt a version of the single-payer legislation unveiled last month by Gov. Peter Shumlin. Though the bill wouldn’t implement a single-payer system until sometime after 2014, it establishes the framework through which the system would one day be run. […]

Vermonters urge lawmakers to pass single-payer health care
VT Digger
By Anne Galloway on March 15, 2011

[…M]ore than 70 Vermonters … spoke at a public hearing about H.202, the health care reform bill that would fundamentally alter the existing system, which is now based on a commercial insurance system and fee-for-service reimbursements to doctors and hospitals. Under H.202, the state would be the first in the nation to attempt a conversion to a single payer health care system in which state government would manage the provider payment system and essentially cut commercial insurers out of the loop. All Vermonters, regardless of pre-existing conditions or ability to pay would be covered under the plan.

Advocates for H.202 outnumbered opponents 4-to-1 in the virtual hearing via Vermont Interactive Television at 15 locations around the state. About 70 Vermonters spoke; many more watched the proceedings.

Lawmakers from the Senate and House health care committees attended most of the regional meetings. The hearing was held as a precursor to sure movement on H.202; the bill is slated to be voted out of committee this week.

In two-minute blocks of time, participants shared war stories about run-ins with the insurance industry, opined about the inefficiencies and “inhumanity” of the existing system or expressed reservations about the financial cost of a single payer health care plan.

Battle lines were drawn from the beginning: Advocates and citizens involved with the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Health Care is a Human Right campaign packed the Montpelier VIT site, wearing red T-shirts and the by-now familiar campaign buttons, which feature Rosie the Riveter. About 14 people in the anti-single payer camp spoke up.

The single-payer proponents sounded familiar themes: They called for equitable, universal coverage and an end to medical industry profits at the expense of human health.

A young woman named Rebecca from Johnson told the audience that her brother was in a bicycle accident last year in Winooski and injured both legs, knees and arms. He couldn’t move his legs at first, she said, but he refused to go to the hospital because he didn’t have health insurance. A year later, his pain hasn’t dissipated.

“Insurance companies must get out of the way,” Rebecca said. “People don’t need the middle man. If my brother had health insurance, he wouldn’t be feeling pain he’s feeling today. Make health care affordable to everyone so we can all get the health care we need.” […]

Forum leans toward single-payer health care
Bannington Banner

By Neal P. Goswami, March 14, 2011

BENNINGTON — Dozens of Vermonters offered thoughts on health care reform in Vermont to members of the House and Senate Health Care Committees during a statewide interactive hearing Monday.

The meeting, held at 15 Vermont Interactive Television sites across the state, was largely dominated by supporters of a single-payer health care system that would provide coverage to all Vermonters. Many wore the customary red shirts of the Health Care is a Human Rights Campaign. Many people visible on the television screens held signs that read "Single-Payer NOW."

In Bennington, Dr. Richard Dundas, a Bennington doctor who founded a free health care clinic, said the current system is broken and asked for a single-payer system.

"I wanted to implore the committee … to change our system because our current one is failing. I’ve been in practice for 30 years. It’s getting worse instead of better. We need universal health care," Dundas said.

Dundas said a single-payer health care system would help lower costs for medical providers by, in part, eliminating private insurance companies.  […]

Statewide Health Care Hearing Lopsided
Caledonian Record
By James Jardine, 3/16/2011

A statewide interactive TV hearing on legislative bill H.202 produced similar testimony from people throughout Vermont.

By a wide margin, those who testified Monday night during the interactive TV hearing supported H.202 and the implementation of universal, single-payer state run health care.

At every site in the state, participants held aloft red and white posters reading, "Health Care is a Human Right." The posters are a product of the Vermont Workers’ Center, a statewide advocacy group whose mission, according to the organization’s website, is "dedicated to organizing for workers’ rights and living wages for all Vermonters."

The statewide hearing included interactive TV sites in 14 communities. In Lyndonville, the local site was at Lyndon State College. Another interactive site was in Newport.

One speaker at LSC was Melissa Bourque, St. Johnsbury, who said she had two children and attended college. She called for establishment of a fair and equitable health care system and said establishing single-payer health care provided "an amazing opportunity to share our Vermont values."

Bourque described current health care as a "failing system" and called for a new system that put "value on a human being, instead of insurance company benefits." She also said that health care should not be viewed as a commodity.

[…] At all 14 sites, those who testified in favor of single-payer health care outnumbered those who testified against it. […]

Locals add voice to single-payer health care debate
Addison County Independent

By John Flowers, Mar 17, 2011

MIDDLEBURY — One by one, they took to the microphones on Monday in all corners of the state to give legislators an earful about plans to revamp Vermont’s health care system.

Though separated by the many miles between the 15 Vermont Interactive Television (VIT) sites, the dozens of speakers primarily spoke in a unified voice tinged with individual health care horror stories. Their message to Vermont lawmakers: Adopt a universal access, single-payer system.

“Please look at our faces and see us; we are your neighbors and we are people, just like you,” Weybridge resident Kathy Heitkamp told lawmakers taking testimony for new health care reform legislation.

[…] Middlebury resident Judy Olinick urged lawmakers to allow Vermont to emulate what she said is common practice throughout the industrialized world.

“In nearly all other modern democracies, health care is considered a public good and a human right,” Olinick said. “Only here does loss of a job mean loss of health care for an individual, and often an entire family. Only here, does a single serious illness — even for those with insurance — often mean financial ruin and loss of one’s home and savings.”

[…] Jill Charbonneau, another Middlebury resident and president of the Vermont State Labor Council/AFL-CIO, said adopting a single-payer system could signal what she believes would be a positive change for the economy, which she said is now primarily corporate-driven.

“Let’s work for people, not for profit,” Charbonneau said. “The system is broken; let’s fix it.

Many attendees in Middlebury — and at the other VIT sites — held red signs bearing the message, “Health care is a human right.” They made sure to get the signs on camera in the background as speakers talked into the microphone.

Newport resident Cindy Parren recounted how she had been diagnosed with a brain clot at age 25. As an underinsured person, she said she could  not afford the ongoing $30 insurance co-pays, which she began putting on her credit card.

“I am medically bankrupt,” she said. “I don’t see a way out of it with our health care system and the current economy.”