by Angela Chagnon
The House and Senate Health Care Committees held a statewide hearing on their plans for a single payer health care system Monday night via interactive television. One site was available in each of Vermont’s fourteen counties. The hearing, which was scheduled for two and half hours, allowed only four to six speakers from each site to testify.
A total of 74 people testified. 57 were single payer supporters. Fourteen of the speakers were opposed to the bill, two questioned if the bill would be helpful in solving the problems with our healthcare system, and one man was concerned that the bill would affect union benefits.
Almost all (if not all) of the single payer advocates were members of the Vermont Worker’s Center (VWC) or its affiliates as evidenced by their wearing trademark red t-shirts and holding the pre-printed signs reading, “Healthcare is a Human Right”. Some did not wear the red t-shirt but stated that they were members of the organization. VWC members packed all of the locations and sat directly behind the speakers, holding their signs up to be visible on the television screens.
Chittenden County’s forum was hosted by the Vermont Technical College in Williston. Also at this location were Rep. Mark Larson (D-Burlington), chair of the House Healthcare Committe, and several other legislators including Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) and Democratic Senators Sally Fox and Hinda Miller from Chittenden County.
Although the line of people who had signed up to testify at the Williston location filled the room and went out into the hallway, only four were allowed to testify due to the time constraint. This led two women who had been in line to speak to voice their disapproval with the layout of the forum.
“This is legislative malpractice,” said Patricia Crocker, an occupational therapist and organizer of the Green Mountain Patriots. She had been next in line to speak and directed her comments to the legislators sitting at the front of the room. “You need more public hearings, like this one, all across the state and allow more people to share their views.”
The other woman, who did not give her name, suggested a different layout that had been used a decade ago during another hotly debated issue. “During the civil union hearings, they had one person from each side, pros and cons, take turns speaking,” she said. “That worked really well.”
Mark Larson disagreed, saying that the single-payer issue “didn’t fit into yes or no.” He did not elaborate as to what he meant by this remark.