City hosts healthcare forum Jan. 10
VERGENNES — A workers’ advocacy group is lobbying the 2010 Legislature to reserve some time for healthcare reform during a busy session that is likely to focus on the future of Vermont Yankee and a fiscal year 2011 state budget shortfall that’s being estimated at $150 million.
The Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC), a statewide, nonprofit organization that lobbies for workers’ rights, will host a forum at the Bixby Memorial Library in Vergennes this Sunday, Jan. 10, at which local legislators will meet with citizens to discuss the prospect of “establishing healthcare as a basic human right and Medicare-for-all-type healthcare in 2010,” according to a press release publicizing the event.
James Haslam, director of the VWC, said the Addison County forum is one of several that the organization will have held throughout the state this fall and winter to send what boosters hope is a strong message to the Legislature to enact a far-reaching healthcare law this session.
“Our goal is to bring forth the voices of the healthcare crisis,” Haslam said of the forums, which he said have drawn hundreds of people and a combined total of more than 70 legislators. Those forums were preceded by a Statehouse rally last May 1 that drew 1,200 people, Haslam said. Attendees have shared some searing stories about their experiences of being uninsured or under-insured, according to Haslam.
“There are people who have lost loved ones because that person has access barriers to the healthcare they needed,” Haslam said.
“We have had people talk about the enormous amount of medical debt.”
Haslam acknowledged that Vermont has independently done more than many other states when it comes to insuring its children and low-income, working families. Catamount Health, for example, provides basic healthcare insurance to those who cannot afford conventional, private insurance.
Asked if the state’s fiscal problems might preclude it from enacting additional healthcare reforms this year, Haslam said he believes Vermont can’t afford to stand pat with the current system.
“What we cannot afford is the current, broken healthcare system,” Haslam said.
He said a universal healthcare system could end up saving the state significant amounts of money in administration. Universal healthcare is a concept that has failed to gain significant momentum in Montpelier, however.
“We’ve seen the issue not as much of a resource problem as a political problem,” Haslam said.
Among those attending Sunday’s Addison County forum, scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m., will be Rep. Steve Maier, D-Middlebury, who serves as chairman of the House Healthcare Committee. Maier said he sees the coming session as one in which the Legislature will have a chance to devise some healthcare initiatives to implement in the future, once finances and pending federal healthcare laws are more settled.
“I trust the process will lead us to the best place we can get to … and I can’t predict what that will be right now,” Maier said on Monday.
“I think we will be able to put a plan and schedule together, and keep moving in that direction,” he added.
The first few weeks of the 2010 session will likely see the House and Senate healthcare committees take a look at all of the reform bills and ideas that have been filed in the legislative hopper. That hopper already includes two bills — H.100 and S.88 — that call for single-payer healthcare plans.
The committees will then gather public testimony and will receive a briefing later this month on federal healthcare reform legislation.
“That will inform us of the choices we have in front of us,” Maier said of the federal healthcare reform picture.
Finances are a key consideration, Maier stressed. While he said it appears “unlikely we’ll be able to do more (healthcare reform) with new state dollars this year,” he noted there could be some federal stimulus money to apply to reform efforts.
“I think everyone agrees on the goal here — to get every Vermonter covered with good healthcare as soon as possible,” Maier said. “We might disagree on the ways to get there.”
More information on the VWC’s healthcare forums can be found at www.workerscenter.org.