Freshman Rep. describes health care sausage making

by Angela Chagnon

Rep. Vicki Strong

House Democrats’ frantic attempts to push H.202 through are getting more frenzied as the legislative session goes on.

The bill emerged from committee on a party line vote (8-3) at 11pm on St. Patrick’s Day after countless closed-door meetings, desperate compromises, and creative tweaks, such as renaming it from “An act relating to a single-payer and unified health system” to “Road Map to a Universal and a Unified Health System”.

Rep. Vicki Strong (R-Irasburg), a member of the Healthcare Committee who voted against the bill, shared some insights into the Democrats’ frantic attempts to get H.202 out of committee Thursday night.

“They gave us a mark-up of the bill at around 8:15 pm or so, and then we were reconvening as a committee at 10 pm to go over the final version of the bill one last time for a vote,” Strong disclosed. “By 8:15, we hadn’t had dinner, we were exhausted, we worked til ten. I was exhausted, I was starving. I know I physically and mentally could not read a 90 page bill and make any sense or reality of what it meant.”

Rep. George Till (D-Jericho) had been an ardent opponent of H.202. But Thursday night, after many meetings with Democrat leaders, Till ended up voting for the legislation.

“George, bless his heart, did his best to read it all,” said Strong. “At ten Paul Poirier [I-Barre] said, ‘We have to reconvene.’ George said, ‘I have 15 pages to go.’ We met again at ten. We tried to talk it over, George had other things he wanted to question. We voted on it at 11pm.”

Strong was very disappointed with the way the bill was rushed to a vote that night without giving committee members enough time to read, let alone think about, the entire bill in its finished form.

“It would’ve been great to take the bill home, sleep on it, and meet again late in the morning the next day, to be all rested before we voted on it,” Strong commented. “I’d like to know why it had to be done so quickly. This is definitely some high agenda from the Governor, a political agenda, I definitely got that feeling about it.”

When asked about whether the changes to the bill were significant, Strong replied, “There were little tweaks they did in the wording to satisfy George, but the concept hasn’t changed at all.”

Many Vermonters have felt that they are being led blindfolded into this healthcare plan, and they are not alone. Strong mentioned how she had heard a radio program discussing the salaries of the proposed healthcare board members while driving to Montpelier.

“I never heard this in the committee. [The Healthcare Board and staff] is going to cost over a million dollars per year,” she said. “The bill doesn’t tell us the salaries. After I mentioned it in committee, I said that I was offended that I had heard this on the radio. The next day it appeared on the desk what the board members were being paid.”

Strong said that the Healthcare board and their staff, at the salaries proposed by the Shumlin administration, would be “an elite group, another huge government bureaucracy.”

Strong believes that H.202 will have the opposite effect of what it’s intended to do. “They say it’s going to make healthcare fair and accessible,” she said. “It’s going to be unfair and make access less available, especially to the poor and needy.”