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Coalition Calls For Action On Universal Health Care

WAMC/Pat Bradley

A coalition of labor and consumer advocacy organizations was at the Statehouse in Montpelier today to call on Governor Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Legislature to take action and implement the state’s universal health care system. But critics of single-payer have said November’s closer than expected elections were a message from voters.

Sixteen groups called on Vermont’s leaders to implement Green Mountain Care, the state’s single-payer health care system.  The groups, which included the Vermont NEA, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and the Vermont State Employees Association, agreed that November’s close gubernatorial election and the loss of several Democratic seats in the state legislature was not a call by voters to abandon the move to universal health care. Rather, Vermont Workers Center Director James Haslam believes the low turnout was a wake-up call that progressive action on health care reform is necessary. “We believe that our elected officials have a clear moral choice. Continuing with a market-based system where insurance companies, premiums and profits rule. Or provide all-care for all people in a universal system that is adequately and equitably financed through taxes.  It is time for Vermont’s elected officials to stand up for a health care system that truly works for the people.”

Vermont CURE Board Chair Bram Kleppner is also CEO of Danforth Pewter.  “The election changed the composition of the legislature a bit here and in Washington. But it did not change the fact that our current system doesn’t work for a lot of people and is going to stop working for the few people for whom it does work. It also did not change the fact that Green Mountain Care, as envisioned in Act 48, represents the best thinking in Vermont based on the best thinking and the best experience from around the world on how to provide quality care to all Vermonters at the minimum cost.”

The League of Women Voters has been advocating for a national universal single-payer system since 1993. Member Katherine Rader  says Vermont voters in November focused on other issues, not health care.  “Our allies up in the Northeast Kingdom there was movement against the governor because of industrial wind and in Addison County the resistance to the gas line. And then of course there was property taxes. So I think that health care as an issue in this election was pretty much off the radar of the voters.”

A report on how Vermont’s universal health care will be financed is due before the legislature on January 15th.  Lead consultant Jonathan Gruber became embroiled in a controversy following remarks that surfaced a couple weeks ago in which he stated that lack of transparency helped pass the federal Affordable Care Act.  Vermont Leads Executive Director Peter Sterling is adamant that the process in Vermont has been open.  “No decision has been made that’s affecting Vermonters yet. The plan is going to be released. Yes it’s late. To me that’s semi-relevant.  But when it’s released transparency’s about do Vermonters have the opportunity to understand how the plan was developed and then most importantly have a chance to weigh in on making the plan meet their needs. If someone presents me something that’s a done deal that’s a lack of transparency. But I know the administration and the legislature would never tolerate that.”

The advocates expect single-payer to be among the top three issues the legislature will address when it convenes in January.  They want the chambers to approve the financing plan so they can then construct a benefits package that would be implemented in 2017.

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