Bennington Banner article on Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign Event

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Forum rallies support for single-payer care
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Posted: 11/22/2009 10:27:25 PM EST

BENNINGTON -- Several panelists spoke in favor of a single-payer health care system at a health care forum Thursday night, but significant barriers remain to achieving that goal.

The forum, organized by the Vermont Workers Centers, was meant to rally support for pushing state officials toward a single-payer system in Vermont. The center is seeking action in the upcoming legislative session on House and Senate bills that call for such a system.

Dr. Marvin Malek said health reform advocates have been eagerly waiting to see what reform bills emerge in the U.S. House and Senate. What President Barack Obama is seeking is an "error of historic proportions," he said. It is now clear that neither bill represents real reform because both measures "maintain all the elements that make the [health] system expensive," he said.

The existing system supports a "triad of dysfunction," Malek said, in which millions of Americans remain uninsured, the nation spends more than any other nation on health care and is not achieving the best health outcomes.

Malek said a single-payer system based on foreign models is the best way to ensure coverage and increase accountability.

"I think it’s very important that we look at ideas in other countries and not confine our thoughts to just ours," he said.

Phil Fiermonte, outreach coordinator for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, said Sanders is seeking an amendment in the Senate health bill that would allow states to receive
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waivers from the federal government if they want to create their own single-payer systems.

Federal rules currently prevent states from using Medicare, Medicaid or Veterans Affairs funding in such a system. And many legal scholars believe that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, known as ERISA, disallows states from implementing such a system. The law prevents states from passing laws related to employee benefits. And a provision states that ERISA supersedes any state laws.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich has offered similar amendments in the House. There has been little support, however.

Nevertheless, the Vermont Workers Center is pushing forward, said James Haslam, the group’s executive director. If a waiver is approved by Congress, state officials must be ready to act, he said.

"It Vermont it’s actually conceivable," he said. "Our legislators listen to us."

Haslam said state Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden, chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and a candidate for governor, has pledged to hold hearings on S.88, a bill calling for a state-level single-payer system during the upcoming legislative session.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com