Rutland Split On Health Care Overhaul

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(Host) According to a survey released this month, Vermonters only narrowly approve of the state’s new law that moves Vermont toward a single-payer health care system.

Among those questioned by the firm Public Policy Polling, 40 percent say they support the law, and 35 percent oppose it.

Rutland is often a political bellwether in Vermont. And, as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, opinions are equally divided there.

(Keck) At a recent public forum on health care reform, Rutland resident Mike Lannon listened to Governor Peter Shumlin and several experts explain some of the proposed changes. Lannon says he wasn’t won over.

(Lannon) "Rutland is very skeptical about whether the government can do a good job. We have bridges in this city to be built by the state that have been sitting across the Otter Creek for four years. So if I’ve got a bridge that’s already addressed by the state as being unsafe to cross, you have to be skeptical when the state says they’ll take care of it."

(Keck) Killington resident Marty Post wondered why there wasn’t more talk about tort reform, and he, too, questioned the state’s ability to take on such a complex and costly issue.

(Post) "The last great state reform was in education. Well, our property taxes went up 3- 4- 5-fold. I don’t know what’s going to keep this from rolling up like this in the future as well."

(Keck) But Kathleen Krevetski disagrees.

(Krevetski) "At least in Vermont, we’re trying. At least we’re trying to do something better to make it better."

(Keck) Krevetski, a nurse at Rutland Regional Medical Center, says a single-payer system would do wonders to streamline what she calls a quagmire of insurance red tape that confounds doctors, patients and hospitals alike.

(Krevetski) "The insurance companies are at the hospital door on a daily basis saying, ‘We’re not going to pay for that.’ At the other end, they still deny and then you have to go through all the paperwork. Sometimes it takes years to collect money that is due properly. Yeah, I’m fed up. I’m really fed up. So I’m absolutely thrilled that this is happening in Vermont and that I’m part of it."

(Keck) Rutland resident Susan Beard says a single-payer system makes sense and she thinks Vermont’s small size will be an advantage.

(Beard) "There’s a feeling of community here and even though we have government, it’s small government; it’s our neighbors and our friends who are there in Montpelier who are doing the work."

(Keck) Still, there are some who have serious questions about how the system would work, if fully implemented.

Wendy Wilton is one of them. She’s the Rutland city treasurer, and she says Rutland County is grappling with a severe shortage of primary care doctors, which she says adds another layer of complexity to the debate.

While Governor Shumlin has acknowledged the problem, Wilton says she’d like to hear more specifics.

(Wilton) "If the provider knows that 90 percent of the cost is coming from the state, how fast will the state pay? Will there be a claims examination. What’s the process? Because if that claim doesn’t come back for three months or four months or five months, that presents a cash flow problem for any provider."

(Keck) Rutland Mayor Chris Louras says he supports health care reform because he thinks it will be best for city taxpayers.

But he says it will only work if everyone in the state has the same basic health plan. He says state and local taxpayers should not be expected to pick up additional coverage demanded by unions or other collective bargaining groups.

Louras says most people he talks to in Rutland agree that change of some sort is needed in the way health care is provided.

But he says at this point, supporting the new law is mostly a leap of faith.

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

(Host) And by the way, that poll showing narrow support for the health care law was conducted by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina. The firm surveyed more than 1,200 Vermont voters from July 28th to 31st. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 2.8 percent.

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