Left wing groups coordinate with governor to promote single payer

by Rob Roper

Part 1: A look at their tactics

VPIRG, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Vermont Health Care for All, and the Workers Center recently held a joint conference call with a number of activists to discuss and coordinate strategy for keeping the momentum going on single payer healthcare legislation. Their objective is to gear up their grassroots efforts for the 2012 legislative session when the next set of decisions will be made to shape issue.

“Tonight is kicking off our ground campaign,” said Cass Gekas, Health Care Advocate for VPIRG. “We’re partnering with local legislators and focusing on reaching Vermonters where they are and looking to folks like yourself – the local residents and local healthcare providers, and business owners and clergy members among others – to really help drive the discussions in your communities…. We have more than twenty events around the state on the docket for the summer and fall…. To make this successful we are really looking to the trusted messengers in the community” to help sell our position.

In addition, Gekas went on, “We’ve all been working from our standard tool kit for strategy and ground organization. That includes getting people to help write letters to the editor. As we said before, letters to the editor are one of the most read parts of the paper by legislators…. It’s something people really pay attention to. It’s a really important step all along the way. And we can certainly help with talking points and things like that… And over time, direct contact with your legislators because they’re going to need to hear from you to the extent that they need to know that they have your support on this so that they understand this is something that’s important to Vermonters.”

James Haslam, Director of the Worker’s Center outlined what his organization has been doing and will be doing to be successful. “What we’ve done over the last three years since we started the Health Care is a Human Right campaign is really try to get organized at a community level — on really a legislative district level. So, when it comes time for the legislative session there is no legislator that could possibly say that there is any question whether the majority of their constituents that they’re hearing from support universal healthcare.

Describing the logistics of their operation, Haslam went on, “We have regional organizing committees. We’re going to be growing those over the summer…. A lot of the people we’re going to need to talk to at this point aren’t going to come to forums, so we’re going to have to go to them…. We’re going to have to go talk to them in churches and senior centers and wherever we can possibly go to talk to them. We’re also going to have a series of organizing trainings.”

The leaders of the conference call went into detailed discussion of talking points that their supporters should use to sell single payer healthcare to their friends and neighbors, as well as answers to suspected criticisms from opponents.

Gekas cautioned the listeners, “We do have some opposition, which is part of the reason we have you all on the call today. There are some folks out there that, you know, it’s normal to be fearful of change, others feel like they have questions unanswered, and we’re going to work to address those things, but its clear that we have another level of opposition that’s brewing, and they’re gathering resources and organizing to employ many of the same tactics that we saw in DC during the debate over the federal health care bill – the scare tactic and misinformation that’s really aimed at muddying the waters…. So, that’s really the main reason we have you on this call tonight, so that we can make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

Dr. Deb Richter of Vermont Health Care for All expressed a certain level of contempt for opponents of her position. “One of the organizations, if you want to call it that, is Vermonters for Health Care Freedom has a website. I think they only have about a hundred facebook friends, so we all have more than that (chuckling in the background). I think the opposition doesn’t have much in the way of people. They had I think one protest in this legislative session and twenty people showed up.

Governor Peter Shumlin joined the call at the end to thank these organizations for all their hard work, acknowledging that Vermont wouldn’t be where we are today without their hard work. Shumlin cut short some of his comments after learning press might be present on the call.

Part 2: A look at their message

VPIRG, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Vermont Health Care for All, and the Workers Center recently held a joint conference call with a number of activists to discuss and coordinate strategy for keeping the momentum going on single payer healthcare legislation. During the call, the groups laid out the messaging strategy and talking points that will be coming to a town square near you.

Cass Gekas, Health Care Advocate for VPIRG summed it up in a sound bite: “The bill is a first step in a multi-year process that’s going to help us build a publicly financed health care system that covers everyone, is affordable for families and businesses, and provides quality healthcare to every Vermonter without breaking the bank.”

None on the call addressed how exactly the state would be able to cover more people, maintain or raise the quality of care and pay less, but did acknowledge that many difficult questions about the concept remained unanswered and that “controlling healthcare costs and providing universal access is not a problem that anyone has been able to solve.”

This notion seemed to give the group a bit of a thrill. “If we are successful,” said Gekas,” I think the key thing here is we are poised to lead the nation,” which is about as comforting to a rational person as the argument, if we’re the first to survive going over the falls in a barrel we’ll be famous! However, other goals outlined by the speakers during the call make the financial viability of the plan — remember, they’re pledging to do this “without breaking the bank” – highly unlikely.

For example, when asked about dental care, Gekas responded, “What I would say about dental care is that up until now it has really been seen as icing on the cake. We at VPIRG think its really important that we get to a place where people have access to that and we’ll be working with Vermonters to make sure that to the extent possible [dental] will be included in the health care package.”

Also of concern in regard to costs, Dr. Deb Richter made a curious statement: “But we do know this, the amount we’re spending right now is more than enough for us to have every possible thing you could ever want or ever need. We know – there’s study after study – that we could afford a comprehensive benefits package with existing spending.” This is in direct contradiction to the findings of the Hsiao Report, which recommended against a comprehensive package as something we could not afford. Hsiao’s numbers are highly debatable. Richter is living in Fantasy Land.

One has to conclude that as this health care legislation evolves these organizations will lobby for any number of bells and whistles that will, in fact, “break the bank” if adopted. Since the governor came onto the call to acknowledge how much he owed these groups for getting him his signature campaign promise, when push comes to shove, taxpayers had better beware.

Richter did, however, hint at how costs would be contained under this system. Asked about the high cost of treatment at end of life, Richter responded, “We need to look at the health and the needs of the whole population and invest in only what is necessary. And, right now what we have is too much technology needed by the population….We as a society have to decide how much we want to spend on health care, how much we want available.”

Of course “we” going forward is the people on this call. The rest of us in the “population” need to decide if we want VPIRG, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, etc. deciding how much health care is available to us, and what’s just “too much technology.”

Part 3: Deconstructing their talking points

VPIRG, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Vermont Health Care for All, and the Workers Center recently held a joint conference call with a number of activists to discuss and coordinate strategy for keeping the momentum going on single payer healthcare legislation. During the call, the groups laid out the messaging strategy and talking points that will be coming to a town square near you.

Single payer is good for businesses?

Advocates for a single payer system have often claimed that one advantage of a single payer plan is that it gets the burden of insuring employees off the backs of employers. Dan Barlow, Policy Director for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, echoed this line.

We believe this will be good for business in Vermont…. It’s essentially an economic development bill disguised as healthcare reform. We’re going on a path that essentially de-couples insurance from employment. Employers will no longer have a say in what he health care plans are for their employees because everyone will have insurance as a right of being a resident of Vermont. Also, when we de-couple insurance from employment, this will really allow the business community to grow and prosper.

Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, who is a small business owner himself, shared a different perspective during an interview on Common Sense Radio:

The governor has tried to sell me on the issue, and he said why wouldn’t you want to do this when we’re trying to take the burden off the backs of business owners? You’re a business owner? I say, I don’t know what it’s going to look like, number one. I want to know what it’s going to cost me, and I want to know the entire cost. But, also, I want to know what you’re offering me for that cost, because if I have to get supplemental insurance on top of that – if the base plan my employees will utilize is not as good as the plan they have now, they’re going to want more. And, if I have to supply that, I’m back in the insurance game. It never took the burden off of me, especially if I have also have to pay an employer [payroll] tax.”

In fact, a government run health care system subsidized by a payroll tax of 14% would be devastating to many small and micro businesses that presently cannot afford health insurance for their employees. It would be a serious deterrent for large self-insured employers who could be forced to pay twice for their employees. (Note, if these self-employed ERISA companies are exempt from the payroll tax, the rate on remaining businesses would have to rise to over 20% to pay for the program.)

Doctors will love this?

At one point during the call, Dr. Deb Richter of Vermont Health Care for All stated, “I know you heard a lot during the legislative session about physicians being opposed to a single payer system, but in the primary care workforce that is largely not true.”

While Richter is correct in pointing out that the online survey conducted by Dr. George Till (D-Jericho) was not scientifically valid (and was monkeyed with at least by supporters of single payer), it did indicate that 46% of physicians opposed the plan and that more than a quarter would “leave the state” if it becomes law.

Even if these numbers are skewed one way or another, ANY decrease in our medical care population would have a negative impact on the quality and availability of care. At a forum in Rutland, Rep. Peter Fagan (R-Rutland) recounted his experience at a Fletcher Allen conference with sixteen internists participating. According to Fagan’s account they were asked, “How many of you are seeking licensure in another state?” All sixteen said they were. Asked how many were seeking jobs in another state, fourteen of the sixteen said they were.

Rep. Jim Eckhardt shared a letter he received from the Chair of the Department of Surgery at Rutland Regional Medical Center. It read:

Due to these circumstances [the content and implications of the health care bill] I… have recommended all surgical specialists under the age of fifty-five at Rutland Regional Medical Center to get active medical licenses in other states. I have an active license in Florida, and I’m looking at Michigan and New Hampshire. We don’t want to leave, but we need to be ready to be able to depart promptly to a state that values our services….

Cass Gekas, Health Care Advocate for VPIRG claimed that adoption of a single payer system would lead to a dynamic where, “Your doctor gets to spend more time with you.”

There is no basis for this claim. The system will increase the number of patients in the system and likely decrease the number of doctors while the number of minutes in a day remains the same. Simple math dictates that patients will have less time with their doctors under single payer. Evidence from Massachusetts, where their efforts at health reform are imploding, bears this out.

Evil Profits?

Gekas also stated, “The bottom line for us is that its really one of the biggest issues here is that our healthcare system at the moment is about profits rather than delivering healthcare.”

She ignores the fact that of the three health insurance providers left in Vermont, the two largest, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and MVP are both non-profit organizations. The only for-profit provider is Cigna, who handles the state employees. Even if the scheme is successful in eliminating two of these providers, Blue Cross would still remain, but with a monopoly stake in the market.

Evil opponents spewing lies?

The groups’ big fear is that opponents of single payer healthcare will employ tactics “similar to those seen in DC” over Obamacare. “Scaring people with misinformation.” These four groups claim they are not afraid to answer hard questions, but if that’s the case, they, like the rest of us, would be demanding to know… how much is it going to cost? Who’s going to pay for it? How’s it going to be paid for? What’s going to be covered? Can I keep my present insurance? What’s going to happen to providers and their compensation and reimbursement? Etc. and so on.

They’re not.


The entire conference call is posted on line HERE.