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Advocates React To Single Payer News

Taylor Dobbs
VPR File
Executive director of the Vermont Workers Center James Haslam, shown here on Dec. 8, says he's deeply disappointed by Gov. Peter Shumlin's retreat on single payer health care.

Vermonters are reacting to the news that Governor Peter Shumlin won't move forward with the implementation of a single payer health care system.

Doctor Deb Richter, the chair of Vermont Health Care for All, said she's disappointed by the governor's decision, but said it could lead to an opportunity to do things in a different way, noting she has advocated for incremental reform.

"This was always going to be a big heavy lift. This is a lot for a legislature to take on all at once. Every other system in the industrialized world has started in smaller chunks," Richter explained. "There are ways of doing more manageable chunks to ease our way into it."  

Richter stressed that Vermonters are already paying for the money needed to fund a single-payer system, even if they don't realize it, and single payer would allow people to pay based on their ability.

"The problem is we are paying in hidden ways, and Vermonters don't even really recognize that when they pay higher prices for goods, wages are stagnant as a result of us paying for health care the way we do now.  All of those things are not something people recognize, because it's not something that's directly saying, 'This is going for health care.' But we're paying every penny of it right now."

Richter says she'll keep working on single payer, like she's done for 25 years.

James Haslam, of the Vermont Workers' Center, said he's deeply disappointed by the governor's decision, as are the thousands of Vermonters who are struggling under the current health care system. His group organizes the Health Care is a Human Right campaign.

He also noted that Vermonters are already paying the money needed for single payer.

"We think in the end the choice was whether or not the governor and legislature would be willing to raise sufficient amount of funds from big businesses and wealthy folks. And he said yesterday that he wasn't willing to do that," Haslam said.

"We are not giving up. This [Act 48] was not a law passed by just Peter Shumlin. It was the results of thousands of people in the state coming together and demanding that we can do better on health care. We can treat it as a human right and a public good and we can have a system which takes all of that money that we're already putting into it and delivers a system that's much better than we have now, that's based on care, and we finance it in an equitable way," said Haslam.

Haslam said he's not sure the ball is in the governor's court anymore to get single payer moving forward.  "A lot of the work has been done behind closed doors, not engaging a lot of people. He hasn't recommended moving forward. We are going to make sure that the Legislature knows that the work that has been done and they can continue moving it forward," he said. The group has planned a rally at the Statehouse for Thursday at noon.

"Obviously our governor does not have a lot of political credibility at this point to begin with," Haslam said. "So it's going to be up to people to move this forward."

Click here for the second part of this interview series.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
Peter was a Producer/Announcer at VPR until 2015. He began his public radio career in 2007 at WHQR-FM in Wilmington, North Carolina where he served as Morning Edition host and reporter, covering county government and Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. His work has won several Associated Press awards and has appeared on NPR's All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, and PRI's This American Life. A graduate of the creative writing program at the University of Maine at Farmington, Peter enjoys writing, cooking and traveling.
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