Many Vermonters don’t have access to affordable health care. Besides the uninsured, 36% of us are underinsured, meaning a serious health care problem would be a financial disaster.

And yet the Legislature has studiously avoided discussion of structural reform or public financing. The Task Force on Affordable and Accessible Health Care talks about tweaking something over here so it gets a little better for one group of people, in the process making it worse for some other group.

No thought has been given to health care as a public good — we’re all in this together; let’s find a way to guarantee access to everyone.

Some legislators think federal and state subsidies for private insurance bought on the exchange are a panacea. But Vermont Health Connect doesn’t work for a lot of people. For my wife, they offered a $6,950 deductible Bronze plan for $558 a month, with co-pays. Would you spend that kind of money for such poor coverage? She could get a cheaper catastrophic plan from Blue Cross, except the Affordable Care Act made those illegal for anyone over age 30. So she remains uninsured. Truth of the matter is, even if you’re “covered” it doesn’t mean you have access. Lawmakers seem to forget that.

A number of organizations and individuals have implored the House Health Care Committee to at least take a look at H.276, a bill with 44 co-sponsors that would phase in public financing of health care, thereby incrementally fulfilling the promise of universal care that has been in Vermont law since 2011. Vermonters have also urged the task force to give H.276 consideration. Nope, it didn’t make the list of 22 health care initiatives to investigate.

We know that universal health care will not be enacted federally. Even if by some miracle, Congress passed it, President Biden has said he would veto such a measure if it ever came to his desk. And so Vermonters struggle. Some people lose their jobs because of health care issues. Some lose their homes because of health care debt. Some die because they can’t afford health care. How much longer can we just look the other way?

Ethan Parke