Rutland People's Forum on Healthcare draws 85+ participants, lead story in Rutland Herald

10.7.09 108_1_0.JPGRUTLAND HERALD: Is health care a human right?
Campaign makes case for universal care at forum

By Brent Curtis Staff Writer - Published: October 7, 2009

RUTLAND - With conditions here and there, every legislator in the room Tuesday night agreed that health care was a "right" — or at least a "national value."

But few rights come with higher costs, most lawmakers in the room agreed.

Those sentiments came from less than a dozen state representatives and one senator who listened to arguments and examples given Tuesday night by the Health Care is a Human Right Campaign, which held its fifth legislative forum of the year in Rutland before about 50 people.

But it's possible if not probable that many of their colleagues will harbor similar sentiments when they return to Montpelier to consider a pair of bills the group has helped to introduce in both the House and Senate.

Democratic Rep. Margaret Andrews summed up most of the legislators' concerns when she said health care reform's biggest obstacle was a poor economy.

"This is just reality folks," she said. "I see health care as an essential infrastructure but the truth is we have a very serious funding situation. We have a $200 million hole in the budget ... . We have a lot of very challenging decisions to make."

Republican Sen. Kevin Mullin was the only legislator in the room who said he would not support legislation calling for the state to establish a "publicly financed integrated regional health care delivery system" to provide "universal access to essential health care services."

"A health care system in Vermont would cost more than every other part of the budget in Vermont today," he said. "No one state is capable of making the leap."

But members of the campaign disagreed.

After bringing the health care problem into focus by calling on patients, business people and doctors who pointed out the gaps and inequities of the present, for-profit system of delivering health care, a trio of speakers made the case for making Vermont a self-sufficient health care provider.

"We need a system that puts providing health care first, not profits," said group member Bela Schug of Rutland. "We need a system that's transparent, efficient and accountable to us, the people it serves."

Schug was followed by Kate Thomas, of Rutland, who said Vermont needs to succeed where the federal government is failing.

"It should be clear that efforts at the federal level will fail," Thomas said. "It's time for Vermont to lead."

Such leadership would cost money. But Dr. Deborah Richter, a family physician from Cambridge and member of Health Care for All, said the state wouldn't need to pay more than the $4.8 billion a year that its residents already spend on health care.

She said if the state followed universal health care systems already in place in other countries, Vermont could provide universal health care for perhaps half of the $4.8 billion cost.

"We can do this in Vermont. It's important to remember that we're already paying for health care. All of us whether we are receiving it or not," she said.

Legislators present included Andrews; William Canfield, a Fair Haven Republican; Gale Courcelle, a Rutland City Democrat; Dennis Devereux, a Mount Holly Republican; Peter Fagan, a Rutland City Republican; Eldred French, a Shrewsbury Democrat; Dave Potter, a Clarendon Democrat, and Mullin.