Grassroots coalition forming to oppose healthcare bill

by Angela Chagnon

A Coalition of Vermont grassroots groups for Healthcare Freedom held a press conference in the State House, followed by a movie screening of the documentary “Sick and Sicker” by Logan Darrow Clements about the Canadian single payer system.

Calling H.202’s wording change from ‘single payer’ to ‘Universal and Unified Health System’ a “bait and switch tactic”, spokesperson Patricia Crocker of the Green Mountain Patriots upbraided the House for pushing the bill through with minimal input from the public.

“Many legislators seem to have ideological blinders that prevent them from considering any other suggestions for reforms other than more government control,” said Crocker, a pediatric therapist from Essex.

Speaking about the one-time, state-wide hearing held through interactive television, she remarked, “At the Williston site alone, over 100 people showed up, but only four were able to testify.”

Crocker referred to the hearing as a “sham”. “Name a bill, give citizens some preliminary wording, let them ‘vent’ in a very limited and controlled manner, then change it slightly and pass it quickly.” She urged the Senate to give the bill “more due diligence than our representatives did in the House.”

Crocker reiterated some of the failed healthcare reforms tried in the past – community rating, Catamount Health, and VHAP. “The fact that we see enough of a problem with our healthcare system to be proposing yet another ‘reform’ clearly indicates that the previous reforms did not get the job done,” Crocker stated. She suggested that the Senate should ask if the direction of previous reforms was “aggravating the problem” before continuing down the same road.

“Maybe the answer is to change course and free the healthcare market from excessive government control,” said Crocker, noting that Governor Shumlin himself had said that the problem with healthcare was that there was “no competition to speak of in Vermont.”

Dr. Robert Letovsky, chairman of the Business and Accounting Department at St. Michael’s College, talked about some of his experiences with the Canadian healthcare system.

Born and raised in Montreal, Dr. Letovsky was in 9th grade when the Canadian single-payer system was implemented. “By virtue of a number of family circumstances, I have spent a lot of time in Canadian hospitals,” Letovsky said.

He listed some good things about the system, such as not having to pay anything when his daughter was born in Ontario. When he moved to Vermont, he had purchased an insurance policy with an Indiana company, which was “booted out of state” when Howard Dean brought in community rating. Later, when his son was born in Vermont, it cost him $3,300 because didn’t have maternity coverage through his insurer at the time.

“Our system has flaws,” said Letovsky. “No human construct is perfect. But let us not emulate the Canadian system with rose-colored glasses.”

One of his main concerns about Vermont’s proposed plan is that “when government takes over healthcare, it becomes a line item on the government’s budget.”

The government will, “look at needs, look at what’s available, and help out as many squeaky wheels as [they] can,” Letovsky predicted. “If you accept the premise that the government cannot spend the same dollar in two places, then what you have when you put healthcare under the government budget, it competes with all the other squeaky wheels that government has.”

Letovsky pointed out that when Canada’s single-payer system was first put in place, healthcare was about 18% of the government’s budget. Now it’s almost 44%. “In addition, Quebecers shelled out $11 billion out of their own pockets. That’s over $1,100 per person.”

To keep the budget in check, the Canadian government sets the budget and works backwards. Not only are doctors’ reimbursements reduced, the number of doctors are also restricted. Although there were 232 graduates from medical schools in 2008 to 2009, the Quebec government only issued 222 permits for new doctors to practice.

“Doctors are viewed as sources of expense,” explained Letovsky. “The more doctors you have out there, the more people will access the system, and the more they have to shell out relative to this fixed budget.”

Speaking about Vermont’s proposed plan, Letovsky said, “I’m worried that any large corporation that had on its docket any kind of expansion in the continental United States, for the next four, five, six or seven years, will not come here until they see how this plays out.

“I think that what we have done by introducing this program in this way with these uncertainties, is we have put a five- to seven-year freeze on significant inbound investment into the state.”