Medicaid Prescription Drug Coverage

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Who would have believed that in Vermont we’d be proposing to take medicine away from low-income old people to balance our budget? We’re talking about deep Medicaid cuts here, about new $1,000 deductibles, and about doing without medicines needed to save lives.

The legislature and the governor need to hear right now what they should already know: We’re against this. Don’t do it.

A statewide in-depth study reported in 1997 by the Commission on the Public’s Health Care Values and Priorities found that Vermonters believe every person has a right to health care. According to that study, commissioned by the legislature, 88% agree that everyone should get the health care they need, when they need it, no matter what. So how did we get here? Who’s not listening?

We’re taking medicine away from our neediest people: old people who generally have multiple conditions and commonly need five or more prescriptions. We’re told we don’t have the money. But that’s nonsense. We have a long way to go before our cigarette tax equals that of our bordering neighbors. Let’s raise it. We’ve held sacred that last reduction in our state income tax. And now we’re paying the state’s bills on the backs of sick people.

Even though it’s clear that most Vermont voters don’t want to pull out the safety net, this mindless war on the poor goes on. The Medicaid program is being treated as if it were a disease itself. "A tumor on the state budget," it’s been called. But it’s a scapegoat for prescription drug costs, wasteful paperwork, and other systemic money drains.

In Vermont, the cost of health care equals the cost of all other state government combined. A problem of this scope won’t be solved by just pulling the rug out from under old people. The solutions will need political courage and willingness to change.

The Health Care Commission headed by Con Hogan, now a candidate for governor, took a politically brave look at universal health care with a single payer option. They were told by their consultants that all Vermonters could be covered, including the 51,000 currently uninsured for 5% less than we now collectively pay. But the Commission found it lacked the political consensus to recommend that option.

OK. If not single payer, then what? The lesson of this session is that we need people in office with political courage and the will to find solutions. Right now, lawmakers should do what’s necessary short-term to protect vulnerable people. Then go out and run for office and tell us what you propose to do for the long term.

Peg Devlyn is co-owner of Marketing Partners, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont.

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