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A report from the health care forum at UVM Davis Building

By Mary Alice Bisbee

This was a very different St. Patrick's Day for me as I hurriedly made a green-lettered sign complete with green decorations, donned my Raging Granny hat and apron, and drove to UVM's Davis building to take part in both an outdoor demonstration for single payer health care and an indoor seat at President Obama's Health Care Forum. First off, was the demonstration from 12 until 1 p.m. The forum started at 1 p.m. and lasted until 3:15 p.m.

I sang with the Raging Grannies at the beginning of the rally, touting Medicare for All, and noting that those of us with Medicare truly do have a single payer system that works quite well. Dr. Deb Richter in her white coat and stethoscope, a family practitioner from Montpelier who  practices in Fairfax, led the charge of about 150 doctors, nurses, and single payer health care advocates who had gathered to show their support for universal, single payer, Medicare for All Health Care, H.R. 676, not health insurance. Participants, when asked to give the state they represented, shouted out responses from Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

An abundant array of signs touted our message and reminded President Obama that back in 2003 to 2004 he had said that he believed in a single payer system. The crowd and several speakers, including Don Mayer from Small Dog Electronics and Socially Responsible Businesses, were respectful yet steadfast in expressing our/their belief that a single payer system without overpriced insurance companies is the only way to go.  Now, businesses are coming on board, realizing that they are going broke by having to compete globally with countries who have universal systems and do not have to deal with employee health insurance with widely varying coverage. There was also an interest in including dental and eyewear care in such universal coverage.

At 12:45 p.m., I parked my sign, bonnet and apron and proceeded on in to the forum where, at the very last minute, after requesting a seat, I was sent an official, nontransferable invitation and parking permit, to allow me a seat among 250 other attendees in the huge dome-covered ballroom of this outrageously expensive "green" Davis building. After a few technical glitches with the DVD of President Obama's voice coming across sounding like Donald Duck, we watched Obama on the huge screen introduce this forum, one of only five forums being held around the country, and only the second, following one the week before in Detroit Michigan, where the Raging Grannies also sang outside!

The forum was chaired by Governor Douglas and Governor Duval Patrick (MA), with visitors that included two Obama appointees, Rep. Peter Welch, Dartmouth researchers, Vermont and Massachusetts policy advocates including representatives of VPIRG, AARP, business and insurance providers, policy wonks and a few providers of both Governor Douglas's Community Connections and Choices for Care initiatives and Governor Patrick's innovations that mandate health insurance in Massachusetts and have resulted in just under 98 percent of Bay State residents having some kind of coverage. As was to be expected, most of the forum was taken up by the two chairs, calling on their providers in the audience who promoted the importance of their particular innovations.

While Dr. Richter had been loudly decrying the lack of inclusion of single payer advocates at this forum, last minute efforts by the governor's staff did give a few seats to those of us who had complained. Con Hogan and Deb Richter sat together and were called on briefly to speak about the need for universal health care as opposed to "universal access" by insurance companies and the need to save by limiting administrative costs. Governor Patrick asked the audience to discuss the single payer model. I raised my hand, along with several other single payer advocates. We were not called upon, however, as the conversation again returned to touting the Massachusetts and Vermont plans.

Representative Adam Greshin (I), representing Valley towns and a member of the House Health Care committee, was noted attending as was Representative Anne Donahue (R) who represents Moretown and Northfield and sits on the Human Services committee. I was delighted to hear Donahue ask why the Obama team is not exploring several of the European plans, which she felt serve their countries well. VPIRG representative Susan Baker submitted a large, paper document which she stated contained comments from 200 VPIRG members that had been collected over the past few months.

One New Hampshire consumer rose to speak of her huge medical bills, her husband's illness requiring him to quit his job while in his 50s, and her eventual need to terminate her position also, to care for her husband. They both have too much income and assets to receive Medicaid in their state and her husband must wait two years to be eligible for Medicare health benefits. A UVM senior student asked what she is to do when she graduates in this poor economic climate where she will probably not be able to find a job that provides health benefits, and with large education loans to pay back, feels that she will have little chance of affording coverage.

Hopefully, somewhere down the line, a plan will be devised that truly meets the needs of all the people, and not just those who can afford it, or are included in our current hodge-podge of hugely expensive public and private programs. They are an administrative nightmare for medical providers, businesses, insurers, and especially, we, the consumers. Obama is to be commended for taking on this highly controversial subject at a time when our financial system is in freefall, we still have an expensive war in the Middle East, and the unemployment rolls are still increasing. On the other hand, what better time to take on health care, than in a severe economic downturn when businesses need to rid themselves of the responsibility of paying for the skyrocketing cost of private and public health insurance.

Bisbee lives in Waitsfield.

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