Vermonters demand single payer

January 18, 2010

MONTPELIER, Vt.--Hundreds of people packed the main chamber of the statehouse on January 12 for a joint hearing of the House Health Committee and the Senate Health and Welfare Committees.

It was an overwhelming show of support for establishing a single-payer health care system in Vermont. Of the 120 people who signed up for the three hours of testimony, more than 100 were in support of a single-payer system.

Vermonters from all over the state--doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, teachers, the unemployed, the self-employed, people living with chronic illnesses and disabilities, representatives from patient advocacy groups, union locals and state federations, and the League of Women Voters--showed their support.

There were dozens of harrowing stories. "I had to put a price on my life. How much debt would you incur in order to stay alive?" asked Walter Carpenter of Montpelier, who lost his job and insurance before he learned he needed a $10,000 procedure to save his life.

Jennifer Larsen of Essex Junction, who last year testified at the statehouse in support of equal marriage rights, said, "Tonight, I feel more vulnerable testifying, feel more vulnerable letting my employer know I have lupus and asthma, than letting them know I happen to be a lesbian."

Another man, flanked by his two young daughters, described how he tried to treat a heart attack with Excedrin because he'd lost his job and insurance coverage. He ended by admonishing the legislators to pass single payer: "We can save some lives."

Deb Richter, a doctor and activist with Vermont for Single Payer, told the committees, "Thirty-one cents of every health care dollar spent in the private sector doesn't go to care, but administration--profit, executive compensation and bureaucracy needed to squeeze out profit."

To emphasize her point, she unfurled a list of all the insurance companies her practice of five physicians had to deal with. The list of just their names and addresses stretched much longer than the chamber had room for. She concluded, "I could see 20 percent more patients if I had less paperwork."

Tristin Adie, a registered nurse and activist in the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign, exposed the insurance companies' outright graft. She testified, "Profits at 10 of largest health care insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007, with $120 million in pay in 2007 alone for executives."

The Vermont Workers' Center's Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign was the main mobilizing force behind the hundreds of people in attendance. Their red T-shirts and signs declaring "Health Care is a Human Right" dominated the crowd. The campaign was kicked off on May 1, 2009, with a massive weekday rally of more than 1,200 people at the Statehouse.

Since then, the campaign has held numerous human rights hearings and health care panels all over the state while collecting thousands of signatures on postcards that were delivered to the state legislature earlier this month.

Sen. Bernie Sanders gave the first testimony, telling the committee the nation would be looking more to the states for leadership on health care reform. "At the end of the day, it will be the states that lead the country to a rational health care system."

The ridiculous national health care debacle proves that, if we're going to get a decent health care system in the U.S., it's going to take real grassroots activism like that of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign in Vermont on a national scale.

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