Backers say universal health care has broad suppport

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(Host) Backers of a Town Meeting health care referendum that calls for a publicly financed universal access system say the success of their initiative in more than 20 towns demonstrates strong grass roots support for their plan. The group is calling on Governor Jim Douglas to reconsider his opposition to a single payer health care proposal.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The referendum was considered in 24 communities on Town Meeting Day; it was adopted in 21 of the towns. The Vermont Citizens’ Campaign for Health is the group that sponsored the initiative. Jesse Hass is president of the organization. She says that it’s important to note that many of the towns backing the referendum are not the most liberal communities in the state. In fact, Hass says, 17 of the towns backing the plan actually supported Governor Jim Douglas in the 2004 gubernatorial campaign:

(Hass) “So I think it’s really clear that this was not the result of a left-wing bias in our selection of the towns where this was considered. It really goes far beyond divisions like that. Universal health care has become a mainstream issue in Vermont.”

(Kinzel) Some critics of the single-payer publicly financed approach charge that the system will lead to higher taxes and a rationing of health care services. VCCH Executive Director Richard Davis argues that the country’s current health care system has its own form of rationing:

(Davis) “We already have an insidious form of rationing in this country. It’s called, we ration by people’s income. And so if you can’t afford health care, you don’t get it. It’s that simple.”

(Kinzel) House Republican whip David Sunderland thinks the Town Meeting votes represent a frustration with the current health care system and shouldn’t be viewed as a ringing endorsement of a single-payer approach – an approach he has serious concerns about:

(Sunderland) “Certainly we have concerns over the cost of a single-payer system. We can point to the Medicaid system right now and the trouble that we’re having with that $70-plus million in debt in the last fiscal year and are looking at an increase in that in the coming fiscal years. So we have concerns with that type of a system in how financially sustainable it is.”

(Kinzel) A special House committee is expected to make some recommendations next month concerning ways to reform the state’s health care system. But Democratic leaders say it’s likely that the panel will wait until next year before proposing any significant reform measures.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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