(Host) More than 100 people jammed the Statehouse today to call for public financing of hospital care.
The advocates included health care providers who say the state could save money and administrative costs with a single payer system for hospital coverage.
But the hospital association and Governor Jim Douglas are skeptical of the proposal.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) The bill says hospital care should be free in Vermont. Hospital budgets could be capped, and the cost of care covered by a payroll tax and a yearly $225 fee paid by all Vermonters under the age of 65.
So far the bill has more support among advocates than it does among lawmakers. But the citizen lobbyists who packed a statehouse hearing room hope to change that. They started with a song.
(HealthSong: "For the sick who are poor, you can do so much more. Prove you care for all people… Vote for H-304…" applause…)
(Dillon) And then they told their stories.
Kate Youngdahl lives in Granville. She’s self-employed and self-insured, and she found that the health insurance her family could afford doesn’t provide the care they need.
(Youngdahl) It’s really hard to go to a doctor and have them say to you that your kid needs an MRI, for example. Does he really need it? Because I don’t actually have the extra $2,000 on hand right now. And that’s the position that people like me are in right now.
(Dillon) Peggy Carrey is a family doctor from Milton who was diagnosed with diabetes in her 20’s. She says she’s seen the health care system from the view of a patient and a physician. She’s on disability now because of her illness.
(Carrey) But disability doesn’t come with health insurance….We can’t have a system that prevents care! We need prevention. We need care. We need healing.
(Dillon) Paul Millman, the CEO of Chroma Technologies in Rockingham, looks at health care from a business perspective. His high-tech company makes optical filters. Business is good, but he says health insurance costs are punishing – about $11,000 dollars per employee.
(Millman) Imagine what businesses in Vermont could do if they had that money free to grow instead of sinking that money into a health care system that is not as good as many countries in this world.
(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas says he open to suggestions to expand health coverage.
But he opposes the payroll tax idea, and he also doesn’t like other parts of the bill.
(Douglas) I’m skeptical, frankly of the proposal that we’ve heard to cap hospital costs. We’ve had this discussion over the past couple of years and the impact of that would be to dramatically curtail the staff that they have and the services they offer.
(Dillon) Bea Grause of the Vermont Association of Hospital and Health Systems says the bill could backfire.
(Grause) Making hospital care free while you don’t change the rest of the system is actually going to drive people into care where they have the least financial responsibility. And hospitals are your highest cost settings. So I think that will actually serve to increase health care costs.
(Dillon) But Doctor Deb Richter – a physician practicing in Cambridge – says the bill would lower health costs overall.
(Richter) Private insurance premiums and out-of-pocket payments will equal $776 million without the bill, and we won’t include everybody. Versus $710 (million) in a tax. Either way, it’s a tax. If it’s a premium or an out of pocket payment it’s still money being spent. This is actually less money being spent.
(Dillon) The bill faces an uncertain future in the Legislature. But the advocates say they’ll be back with more people next month to push for its passage.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.