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Attending the Washington County People's Forum on Healthcare, held last Tuesday evening, September 22, at Montpelier High School, I was unexpectedly delighted by the quality and candor of the productive dialogue in which legislators and citizens shared concerns about the design of a health care system to meet the needs of comprehensive, quality healthcare for all of Vermont's citizens.
Seven Washington County House and Senate members held an active
dialogue with the audience, listening to personal stories of health
care system malaise and responding with stories of real concern
themselves... stories that reflected the difficulty of holding one's
intent amidst the pressure of politics. Almost unanimously they called
for the collective and individual voices of citizens to keep them on
"The problem with health care is us, your elected officials," said Paul Poirier, representative, Barre. "Every two years we promise this, and at the end of the two years where are we? We, as politicians are afraid to stand up and say this needs to be done. What are we doing? Zero! People are afraid to alienate people. We have to stand up. We're asking for your help. We tell you we're going to do something yet we do nothing. So hold us accountable this year. Help!"
Poirier's thoughts were seconded by Francis McFaun, representative, Barre Town: "We talk about things and what we have to do, but we don't walk the talk," he said. "We want to get re-elected....and if we go for health care, we know we won't." Here was a call, loud and clear, from our representatives for our voice, our insistence, to hold them to the task at hand.
There was discussion of support for bills H.100/S.88, Vermont single-payer health care bills which propose to establish the goal of universal access to essential healthcare services in Vermont. To this discussion Washington County Senator Ann Cummings offered the query: "What roadblocks exist to block these bills? For the poor it's fear, they can't envision what it looks like; for the wealthy they can't envision what they'll lose."
The task," Cummings pointed out, calls for tremendous voice, a collective conscience."
Washington County Senator Bill Doyle noted the idea of "health care as a public good, provided for the good of all, not for a select group and not for profit, where everyone contributes to their ability."
"It is important," he noted, "that we figure out something that fits Vermont, the way we want to do it."
Sadly, for those of us attending the forum from the Mad River Valley, neither of our state legislators were present, neither Adam Greshin representing the Waitsfield-Warren legislative district nor Maxine Grad representing Moretown were able to share their thought and listen to ours on this critical issue.
This public forum on health care was organized by community members who have been conducting person to person research as part of the Healthcare as a Human Right campaign, which examines the impact that the broken health system is having in our community and seeks to change what is politically possible in health care reform. A focus to bring to the attention of ourselves, our neighbors and our legislators that health care is a basic human right, and recognized as such in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Just recently the Christian Science Monitor noted that two state legislatures, Vermont and California, have in fact passed single-payer legislation only to have them vetoed by Republican governors. Either of these states could soon become the first to pass a statewide, public healthcare system that covers everyone. "I think it makes sense to push for single-payer bills on a statewide level. It looks pretty grim in Washington....so we are mobilizing our forces," said Dr. Deb Richter, founder of Vermont Health Care for All.
This was echoed by James Haslma, director of the Vermont Worker's Center, "Healthcare is a Human Right" campaign. "There is a lot of excitement around this issue," he said. "Vermont could become a model for the rest of the country."
Elsbeth lives in Waitsfield.