Activists Disrupt Inaugural Proceedings in Vermont Over Healthcare Grievances

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As the newly re-elected Gov. Peter Shumlin gave his inaugural address Jan. 8, more than 100 activists protesting a lack of progression on universal healthcare and measures to protect the working poor packed the Vermont Statehouse, and police removed 29 demonstrators from the House chamber Thursday evening.

Shumlin decided in December to abandon Act 48, which was approved by the Legislature in 2011 and would have created a single payer system in Vermont by 2017. The move has been a deeply divisive one.

Proponents of a single payer system say that it would be more efficient for all medically necessary care to be paid for by the government, which would contract the actual work out to private organizations.

This would not be dissimilar from how some federal health services work now, but in an expanded form. The government is primarily able to maintain some standards of care because it can refuse to pay for services. For example, if a provider hires or contracts with a party on the Office of the Inspector General’s exclusion list, then the federal health programs (such as Medicare or Medicaid) will withhold payment.

The act’s supporters hoped that the Vermont legislation could create a model for other states to follow in implementing universal healthcare at the state level.

But those who oppose the system say it would cost too much and shift the burden from larger corporations who pay the bulk of insurance costs (for their employees) to taxpayers, and would serve relatively few Vermont residents who are currently uninsured.

Even supporters of a single payer system are distancing themselves from the protesters who disrupted proceedings last week.

“We regret and do not condone that our representatives … were targets of disrespectful behavior during the inaugural proceedings,” Deb Richter of Vermont Health Care for All wrote in a letter to the Rutland Herald Jan. 13. “Our organization remains committed to working in a respectful, positive way with our elected leaders and citizen representatives.”

Public figures, too, have called on politicians and taxpayers alike to be willing to move forward with a new plan instead of clinging to Act 48. “The handwriting about the likely fate of the single payer plan has been on the wall for quite some time,” former Democratic senator Peter W. Galbraith wrote for VTDigger Jan. 12. “Instead of recriminations over what didn’t happen, let’s look to what can still be accomplished.”

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