“All of my body, and all of your bodies, deserve care!” said Burlington small business owner Bekah Mandell in her testimony Thursday, joining a sea of red-shirted members of the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Healthcare is a Human Right (HCHR) campaign who called for a paradigm shift at Thursday’s statewide VIT Benefits Listening session.
More than 125 Vermont residents filled the rooms of eleven Vermont Interactive Technologies sites for a listening session on the benefits to be included in the new single-payer Green Mountain Care system. All five members of the Green Mountain Care board and staff from Governor Shumlin’s Office of Healthcare Reform listened to close to 100 testimonies that overwhelming called for “comprehensive, appropriate care.”
“We need a system that is not only universally accessible, but is universal in coverage. Healthcare is a human right,” said Cindy Perron, a Barton resident who identified herself as a member of the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) and HCHR.
Under Act 48, Green Mountain Care must include benefits that, at the minimum, match those included under Catamount Care. People testifying demanded the inclusion of dental, vision, mental health care, and long term care, and a fundamental shift away from the current insurance model.
“We need a paradigm shift,” said HCHR and VWC member Mary Gerisch of Bennington, “healthcare is a human right, and we need to move away from the idea of health insurance packages to health care.”
Griffin Shumway of Wilder shared the story of learning that his stepfather had cancer. Shumway testified, “The insurance company has now asked us if we want to max out our coverage on his long term care, or if we still want to go to our various vision, dental, and mental health appointments. At the same time the state of Vermont has dared to ask not only me, but thousands of other families the same question!”
Samantha Barrale of Rutland ehoed Shumway. Without vision coverage, she said, “Each day I suffer with poor vision and migraines, especially when I am driving or working as a waitress… This is my story, but I do not want you to choose my needs over anyone else’s. I am here because I believe that it is government’s obligation to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.”
“I can think of nothing more immoral than a for-profit healthcare system,” said Heath Hescock of Monkton, encouraging the state to keep moving forward on the implementation of Act 48.
LuAnn Chiola of New Haven warned that Vermont is drawing the attention of “powerful outside interests that profit from the current healthcare system,” warning against the “false arguments” of groups such as Vermonters for Health Care Freedom (VHCF). Jeff Wernberger, Director of VHF, made a brief statement at the beginning of the session opposing the implementation of Act 48, leaving immediately after giving his testimony.
The Vermont Workers’ Center promised ongoing testimony from residents about the need for universal care. For more information about the Vermont Workers’ Center and to get involved please visit www.workerscenter.org
Watch the Vermont Workers’ Center video summary of the hearings:
Press coverage in the VT Digger, May 31:
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.
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.