Vermont Public Radio coverage of January 6th event "Workers Lobby For Single Payer Health Care" [listen online]

(Host) Several hundred people went to the Statehouse today to lobby for a single payer health care system.

Legislative leaders promised they would explore the single payer approach, but they didn't commit to having a vote on the issue this year.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The rally was organized by the Vermont Workers Center and it was the culmination of a series of public hearings that the Center held throughout the state over the past few months.

Hundreds of people wearing bright red teeshirts proclaiming that "health care is a human right" crammed into a large meeting room at the Statehouse. James Haslam is the director of the Workers Center:

(Haslam) "What we heard loud and clear in communities across Vermont is that the time is now for change on health care and today we're here to deliver that message." (Applause)

(Kinzel) Sue Lucas is the president of the Nurses Union at Copley Hospital. She told the crowd that Vermont's health care system needs to be changed:

(Lucas) "We know that Vermonters believe that health care is a human right. I don't think we need to sell that today - we know that's true. What we're here to do today is to change what is politically possible."

(Kinzel) Dozens of legislators observed the rally. Jennifer Henry, who is president of the Fletcher Allen Nurses Union, had a clear message for them:

(Henry) "We will measure the leaders here in the Statehouse and all across the state by their ‘can do' attitude, and their willingness to keep going and keep fighting until change happens."

(Kinzel) Senate Health Care chairman Doug Racine pledged to undertake a serious review of a state single payer system but Racine wouldn't promise that the Senate would vote on a bill this session:

(Racine) "We're going to move this discussion forward. We're going to stop talking about whether it's a good idea or a bad idea. We're going to start talking about what the questions are, the concerns are, we're going to answer those questions and we're going to try to design a system which will get us to our goal of universal coverage of all Vermonters at an affordable cost."

(Kinzel) One person who doesn't support this approach is Governor Jim Douglas. Instead, the governor wants to expand competition in the private insurance market:

(Douglas) "I'd like to see more choices. And I know one idea the Congress is looking at is allowing people to buy insurance across state lines, as we are allowed to do now with auto insurance and life insurance for example. So I think we should put all these ideas on the table, but I'm not convinced that the government running an insurance plan would be the best approach."

(Kinzel) The Senate and House Health Care committees will hold a special public hearing on several different health care bills next Tuesday night at the Statehouse.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.