As the legislature approaches adjournment, and as S.88 nears its final disposition in the Senate, the Vermont for Single Payer campaign would like to clarify its stance. First and foremost, we support the health system studies that are embedded in S.88. For this reason, we would be very happy if the bill passes, with or without other provisions in it that we feel are diversions from the ultimate goal of single payer health care. Alternatively, we would also be happy if S.88, or some part of it, is added to the budget bill and passes with the studies intact. Therefore, at this time, we do not take a position on the political mechanism by which S. 88 becomes law. We leave that to the legislative leaders. Whatever the mechanism, we are optimistic that by this time next year we will have a single payer design to build our movement upon.

The side issue-about disclosure requirements for free drug samples-did indeed threaten to derail S.88, but not because single payer supporters, such as members of our organization, took the position we did. Instead, it was legislators in the House who, in defending the House committee version, refused to listen to doctors and to patient advocates, many of whom said the reporting requirement would adversely affect low income people and the uninsured. Some of these legislators, normally supporters of health care reform, even said they would vote against S.88 if the reporting requirements were removed. Had we ignored this issue, we would have betrayed our most steadfast belief, which is that all people, regardless of income, should have the health care they need. It goes without saying that our preference is for health care, including prescription drugs, to be delivered under a single payer system. Until that happens, however, we will not turn away from defending the immediate needs of the disenfranchised.

And so here we are, perhaps moments away from passage of the health care bill of 2010. It’s a good time to put in perspective everything that has happened so far. We must remember that S.88, as originally introduced, was a strong single payer bill that would have begun implementing universal publicly financed health care within a year or two of passage. The Senate Health Care Committee then changed this original implementation bill into a bill calling for a study of three system designs, one of them single payer. Despite this significant weakening of the legislation, the Vermont for Single Payer campaign continued to support it, and we rejoiced when the Senate passed the measure by an overwhelming 28-2 vote.

We then watched with dismay as the House committee diluted the bill with over 80 pages of arcane, unstudied, and often regressive health care provisions that were unrelated to designing a universal health care system. We worried that the House had put the studies, and the entire bill, at risk by adding these controversial provisions. Then, when the drug sample debate took center stage, we spoke out. As explained above, to have remained silent would have been unconscionable. But at all times we remained hopeful that some form of the bill would pass, giving Vermont the opportunity to have an eminently qualified consultant design a detailed single payer system for our state.

As an organization and as individuals we have worked tirelessly for many years toward the goal of universal and affordable health care for all Vermonters. Ultimately, we believe Vermont will lead the country in true health care reform and will continue to do everything possible to ensure a single payer health care system is implemented in our state. But let us remember that S.88 is only one very small step toward that goal. We do not hold any illusions that single payer, once studied, will be easy to legislate. We know that much work remains to be done and we will need the cooperation and support of Vermonters from all walks of life. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize-universal, single payer health care-and recommit ourselves to the work that needs to happen to reach that goal.