Rutland County Healthcare Is A Human Right Organizing Committee Report from People's Forum on Healthcare, Rutland Free Library
On October 6th, over 80 Rutland County citizens participated in a forum on our Human Right to Healthcare, at the Rutland Free Library. All 22 Rutland County Legislators were invited. There were eight Rutland County Legislators in attendance, four Democrats and four Republicans. Several answered questions in the Q&A session at the end of the forum.
The Legislators present were:
Rep. Peg Andrews, Rutland City Democrat
Rep. William Canfield, Fair Haven Republican
Rep. Gale Courcelle, Rutland City Democrat
Rep. Dennis Devereux, Mount Holly Republican
Rep. Peter Fagan, Rutland City Republican
Rep. Eldred French, Shrewsbury Democrat
Rep. Dave Potter, Clarendon Democrat
Senator Kevin Mullin, Rutland County Republican
The forum moderator was Randal Smathers. The crowd listened politely, especially given that the PA system stopped working just before the forum started. There were a few in the crowd opposed to health care reform, but no one interrupted the forum. Overall, it was a very civil discussion with legislators from both political parties.
At the start of the forum, four speakers spoke about their healthcare stories, or comments on healthcare. Joan Eckley spoke about a pre-existing condition she has had since childhood, and a car accident when she was a young adult, which resulted in spinal injuries. She had chosen early on to work in Vermont State Government because of the need for healthcare coverage. She is now retired from the Department of Corrections, and is worried whether the State of Vermont can keep its promise to state workers and retirees.
Greg Cox is an organic farmer and small business owner (Boardman Hill Farm and Farmstand), and President of RAFFL (Rutland Area Farm and Food Link). Mr. Cox spoke about his passion, food, and how "we are what we eat". He is concerned about how the foods we eat are affecting our health as a state and a nation. He stated that we don't have a healthcare system, but rather a "disease management system". Eating healthy food is a good preventative measure towards achieving good health. After many years without health insurance, Mr. Cox’s wife recently took a job with health insurance. Shortly after, Mr. Cox had gall bladder surgery, and is thankful to have had the coverage.
Dr. Mark Messier, a Rutland family physician spoke about the problems and situations that arise with his patients due to health care insurance rules, as well as lack of insurance or under-insurance. For example, some diabetic patients do not take all the medications that are prescribed due to un-affordability of drugs, and weak prescription drug coverage. This causes further complications for these patients. He also cited a case where a patient opted out of an effective oral chemotherapy regimen that would have saved costs and time, and instead chose a traditional chemotherapy regimen. The reason was that the patient's insurance company did not cover oral chemotherapy, which forced the patient to choose the more expensive chemotherapy treatment.
Rev. John Weatherhogg from Grace Congregational church in Rutland spoke about the moral aspect of healthcare. His father was a physician in Wisconsin, and helped start the first HMO in that state. Rev. Weatherhogg is also on the board of the Rutland Community Clinic. He spoke about the need to take care of the "least among us".
Bela Schug presented Human Rights principles and how they applied to healthcare. These five Human Rights principles are Equity, Universality, Accountability, Transparency and Participation. The Health Care is a Human Right campaign believes that these principles should be reflected in any future healthcare reform legislation.
Kate Thomas of the Vermont Workers Center presented legislative bills H.100 and S.88. These are identical bills in the Vermont House and Senate. The bills propose “to establish the goal of universal access to essential health care services in Vermont through a publicly financed, integrated, regional health care delivery system; provide mechanisms for cost containment in the system; and provide a framework, schedule, and process to achieve that goal”.
Dr. Deb Richter is a family physician in Cambridge, VT. She spoke about healthcare and what it costs in Vermont. As a state, we are already currently paying $4.8 billion towards healthcare, if you add up all of the private and public insurance premiums, taxes, co-pays, deductibles, prescriptions, emergency room costs and charitable medical services for the uninsured or under-insured. Despite all the money we spend, we really don't have a comprehensive healthcare "system", but rather a hodge-podge of payment and delivery systems and procedures, that don't necessarily work together in a coordinated fashion. Dr. Richter has recently co-authored a book with Cornelius "Con" Hogan and Terry Doran, titled, "Gridlock: The Unhealthy Politics of Health Care in Vermont".
James Haslem of the Vermont Workers Center presented the goals of the “Health Care is a Human Rights” campaign, and invited citizen participation.
Each legislative member present, except one, affirmed that any healthcare policy must reflect these Human Rights principles. One legislature felt that they only human rights were "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, air and water". This legislator later stated that he felt that that healthcare should at least be a "national value".
Each legislator was given time to speak on their thoughts on healthcare and what obstacles they see in addressing healthcare reform in Vermont. Many were sympathetic to the notion of Healthcare as a Human Right, but cited the current economic recession and state budget deficits as an obstacle. Also, the legislature must deal with many other issues besides healthcare, including roads and bridges, and education. One legislator asked the public to be patient with the legislature, since this will not be an easy task. Some legislators are not on health care committees, but came to listen. Senator Kevin Mullin is the county's most well versed legislator in terms of healthcare, since he has been on healthcare committees in both the House and Senate. His comments about the TV ads for prescription drugs that we are all subjected to drew applause from the audience.
There was a Q&A session at the end of the forum. The questions were collected on index cards from the audience. There was time to discuss six questions. The remaining questions will be posted on the workerscenter.org website.
We thank all of the legislators and speakers that participated in the Rutland County forum, for their time and for listening and discussing healthcare in Vermont.
Vermonters all over the state are organizing in a grassroots movement to demand healthcare is a basic human right. We cannot and will not wait any longer. To get involved with the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign, call 802-861-4892 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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