Advocacy Group Pushes Universal Health Insurance

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(Host) Providing health insurance for every Vermonter will become a mandate in the next legislature if a southern Vermont health advocacy group has its way.

VPR’s Susan Keese has the details.

(Keese) This spring 16 Windham County towns passed a resolution urging the creation of a system of universal health insurance in Vermont.

Now the organization behind the resolution hopes to turn that success into an effective grass roots campaign. Members say the state’s leaders have failed to make any progress on what they see as a full-scale crisis.

(Richard Davis) “We feel that best way to make change and create progress is to empower and educate constituencies such as business owners, such as health care providers, such as anybody who’s suffering because of the high care of health care and health care insurance, and then have them put the pressure on the legislators to do the right thing.”

(Keese) Richard Davis is the executive director of Vermont Citizens’ Campaign for Health. The group is based in Windham County. It grew out of a statewide coalition that helped put universal healthcare to the legislative forefront in the 1990’s.

No bill was ever passed. But Davis says the situation is much worse now and that Vermonters are ready to take action.

(Davis) “You know, Vermont only has 600,000 people, so it’s not unreasonable to use it as a laboratory for a model and provide universal health care. And we still believe that could happen.”

(Keese) The group is trying to galvanize towns that passed the resolution last March. They recently persuaded Brattleboro’s selectboard to ask the Windham Regional Commission to host a multi-town forum in September. They’re also talking with business owners who’ve been hurt by rising insurance costs.

The group is using a 2001 study prepared for the state by the Lewen Group to calculate potential savings under a single payer plan. The study says Vermont could save millions in administrative costs alone by creating a single insurance pool that would serve everyone.

But health care lobbyist Stephen Kimball says those savings would only be realized once, when a single payer system is initiated.

(Kimball) “But then the trajectory of increase of health care costs is going to say the same. Because it’s not the administrative costs that are going up by double digit factors. It’s the cost of treating an aging population, the cost of MRI’s versus Xrays, improved technology.”

(Keese) But Brattleboro Town Manager Jerry Remillard says there’s a lot of frustration out there waiting to be channeled into some kind of action.

(Remillard) “I’m not sure that everybody has a solution or has agreed on a solution, but everybody from the employees to the selectboards to people paying their own insurance, everybody agrees that it’s a total mess.”

(Keese) Members of the Citizens’ Campaign hope their grass roots effort will spread and become a key issue in November’s statewide elections.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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