Health Reform Activists Push for Addition to Bill

MONTPELIER — Activists worried that the health care reform bill pending in the Legislature has been watered down to please business interests came to the Statehouse on Friday to remind lawmakers of the “original intent” of the legislation.

The activists, who were part of the Vermont Workers’ Center’s “Health Care is a Human Right Campaign,” announced amendments they will propose to lawmakers that emphasize that the bill — known as H.202 — is about providing universal coverage and making sure health insurance is not a for-profit enterprise.

“H.202 must be improved, and we are here today to push for our ‘put people first amendment’ to strengthen the bill to make it clear that its goal is to make health care a public good and not a commodity,” said Peg Franzen, president of the Vermont Workers Center.

The group held its press conference two days after a Senate committee backed the bill with a 5-0 vote. The House has already approved the legislation, and the full Senate is expected to vote next week on the bill.

The legislation would lay the groundwork for a major health care overhaul in Vermont the Shumlin administration argues will lead the state to a single-payer system. Some lawmakers say the bill wouldn’t necessarily lead to a single-payer health care system.

Some of the activists at the Statehouse are unhappy with portions of the bill and say there has been too much emphasis on pleasing the business community and less on making sure every Vermonter receives health care coverage.

James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, mentioned in particular an amendment added to the bill at the insistence of Sen. Kevin Mullin, a Rutland County Republican and a member of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare.

Under Mullin’s language, Vermont cannot make the leap to single-payer unless the financing is “sustainable,” overall cost reductions can be proven, provider reimbursements will be sufficient to retain the state’s medical workforce and the system will have a positive effect on Vermont’s economy.

The amendment also guarantees a minimum universal benefits package comparable to the one offered in Catamount Health.

“Unfortunately it places a whole lot of criteria, we will only do this if and if and if,” Haslam said. “And of course we need to have a system that works for Vermont, but the whole point of the health care being a human right is that there’s no criteria, there’s no variables. Everybody needs quality health care no matter what.”

Mullin was surprised to hear criticism from the members of the Health Care is a Human Right campaign, saying members of the campaign who have followed the bill thanked him for his vote in person and through email.

Mullin added that his amendment offers common-sense language that everyone should support.

“Everybody should want to put in place a system that actually works and one that can come out at the other end as a successful product,” Mullin said.

The Vermont Workers’ Center is proposing a list of amendments to the bill including one that reads: “The state of Vermont must provide health care as a public good and, within a reasonable time, act as the payer for health care coverage for all Vermonters.”