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Lawmakers hear public’s health care woes

March 15, 2011
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Staff Writer

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.

“My concept of a single payer is that it has to seriously decrease the overhead that providers and hospitals … have to pay for overhead. This would include burdensome documentation that doctors are required to submit in order to get paid. It also includes severing our ties with the insurance industry,” he said.

Jane Norrie, who also testified in Bennington, said the current system requires tremendous paperwork and overhead. “I heartily agree with Dr. Dundas that we could save a huge amount of money just by not having to make reams of copies,” Norrie said.

Lawmakers are currently considering H.202, a plan submitted by the administration of Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. The legislation seeks to lay the groundwork for single-payer health care in Vermont.

It calls for a five-member board to help implement a system in which the state is the only health provider of health care coverage by 2014. Shumlin’s plan does not yet specify a funding mechanism, however. Nor does it provide information about benefits. That is expected to be included in a later phase, according to Shumlin. A payroll tax has been mentioned as a potential primary funding source, however.

Dr. William Hsiao, a Harvard professor and health care expert hired as a consultant by the state, delivered a report to state lawmakers earlier this year detailing where the state would see savings if it implements a single-payer plan. His report is expected to serve as the blueprint for a hybrid single-payer system run by the state but administered by a private insurance company.

With Democrats holding large majorities in both the House and Senate the plan is likely to move forward, despite GOP opposition. Not everyone was in favor of a single-payer system. “In Canada many have died because of their rationing,” said one man in Montpelier.

Others asked for more details on costs and what kind of benefits the plan would provide.

A woman testifying in Burlington decried “left-wing pressure groups” that she said were pushing a single-payer health care system. “These are groups that are loud, they’re outside funding groups using Vermont as a petrie dish,” she said. “Not only is government health care not wanted, there’s no money for it.”

But many of those that testified Monday said they are seeking the universal coverage a single-payer system would provide. Many shared stories of their own struggles with the current system.

A young woman in Brattleboro said her mother was recently laid off, causing a loss of health care covered. As a volunteer receiving a living stipend, the woman said she has only a supplemental plan, which does not cover necessary appointments for a medical condition. “Each appointment would cost me over $600, money I don’t have,” she said. The possibility of a life in pain scares me.”

Another woman in Springfield said she isn’t receiving the care her doctor wants to deliver because of interference from the insurance company. “Currently my care is being influenced by my insurance company. My doctor and I should make those decisions,” the woman said through tears.

The House Health Care Committee is scheduled to focus on H.202 this week and expected to advance it.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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