Health care reform debated in Burlington

Print More

(Host) The Obama Administration is going around the country to gather ideas about how to reform the health care system.

A meeting in Burlington on Tuesday gave a chance for the governors of Massachusetts and Vermont to offer their states as potential models for national reform.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Hours before the session started a crowd outside complained that their views were not being heard. They said the health care system covers too few and costs too much.

(Everybody in, nobody out!)

Doctor John Walsh works at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He said the public needs to pressure President Obama to push for a single payer system.

(Walsh)“But it’s only going to happen if the people do it. And I believe Obama can be turned around. He’s not taking a strong stand at this point.”

(Dillon) Most of the single payer advocates were kept on the outside. Attendance at the meeting was by invitation only.

Inside, about 400 people packed a town hall style meeting moderated by Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican, and Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick – a Democrat.

They got an earful from Sandra Burt, a 66-year-old from Concord, New Hampshire. Burt is on Medicare, and she said the government-run insurance program leaves her practically begging for help to cover her prescription drug costs.

(Burt) I have to go on the computer every year and try to find a foundation that will help me live another year. And I don’t think that’s right.

(Dillon) Burt says medication for her immune disorder cost more than $1,500 dollars a month.

Physician Ira Byock works at Dartmouth Hitchock Medical Center. His message to the Obama White House is that any reform effort has to pay doctors for preventive care, and for end of life care.

(Byock) “The one thing that I ask to be taken back is a focus on people and not patients. People are just individuals before they become patients, and we force them to have a problem before we will deal with them.”

(Dillon) The forum gave the governors of Massachusetts and Vermont a chance to tout their states as potential models for health reform.

The Massachusetts plan requires nearly everyone to obtain health insurance, and about 98 percent of the state is covered. Governor Patrick said the Massachusetts plan worked when policy-makers adopted a sense of realism.

(Patrick) “We finally decided that there were other choices than the two choices that had been on the table up ‘til then. The two choices in everybody’s view were between a perfect solution and no solution at all.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas said Vermont’s program extends insurance coverage, but also focuses on disease management to bring down health care costs.

(Douglas) “And that’s really provided a national model for health care reform of which we can all be rightly proud.”

(Dillon) But Doctor Deb Richter – a single payer advocate from Vermont – points out that Vermont has yet to save any money.

(Richter) “We have to discuss finances and since we’ve determined that everyone is worthy, then why don’t we just say – everybody in , one system, pay for it with taxes, and then put everything on the table in terms of a budget to figure out what we can pay for and what we can’t.

(Dillon) Organizers of the forum said they will take the comments back to the White House. Other regional forums are planned for California, Iowa and North Carolina.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

Comments are closed.