Forum leans toward single-payer health care

March 15, 2011

NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Bennington Banner

Monday 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.

"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.