BURLINGTON — About 1,000 Vermonters flooded the auditorium of Burlington High School on Sunday for a rally opposing Republicans’ planned repeal of the Affordable Care Act and pushing for universal health care.
The demonstration was part of a nationwide day of action spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders and others and came just two days after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to initiate the swift repeal of the ACA. Sanders said 70 rallies were held from Maine to California.
“Our job today is to defend the Affordable Care Act, and our job tomorrow is to create a single-payer system,” Sanders said through a live video feed from a rally in Michigan. “We will not stand by and watch Republicans dismantle our health care system, make huge cuts to Medicaid, privatize Medicare and defund Planned Parenthood.”
The Burlington rally was co-sponsored by dozens of organizations. The venue was changed twice to accommodate the number of people who signed up through Sanders’ website to attend. Fourteen speakers addressed the rally, from elected officials to Vermonters at risk of losing their health insurance if the ACA is repealed.
Phil Fiermonte, state director of Sanders’ office, said 35,000 Vermonters will lose their health insurance if that happens, in addition to 13,000 who were made eligible for Medicaid through its expansion under the ACA.
Also, 280,720 Vermonters with pre-existing conditions will see an increase in their costs for health insurance if the law is repealed, Fiermonte said.
Dr. Deb Richter, a general practitioner and co-founder of Vermont Health Care for All, an organization that advocates for a single-payer system in the state, has been in favor of universal health care in the United States for decades.
“We are losing programs and coverage, and many Vermonters will die as a result,” Richter said. “We need to hang on to programs in place and meanwhile build a program for all. That’s why a single-payer system for primary care is needed now.”
During the 2015 legislative session two bills — H.207 and S.88 — proposed creating publicly financed primary care for all Vermonters. Legislators called for additional studies and financing options throughout the 2015 and 2016 sessions.
According to Richter, pre-financing options for a single-payer primary care system will be drafted during the current session.
“We need a program for every single American. Let’s start in Vermont,” she said.
Richter added that single-payer primary care for all Vermonters would cost $200 million a year and could be funded by a 1.5 percent payroll tax. She said the tax increase would pay for itself by eliminating expenses like copays and deductibles.
Freelance writer Brenda Patoine spoke at the event about how she got health insurance through the ACA. She’s self-employed and healthy, so she said she didn’t worry much when a divorce left her without insurance. However, when the ACA was passed, she was able to afford health insurance and the peace of mind that came with it.
A friend who is a single mom was also uninsured before the ACA, she said.
“When health care is something only the wealthiest can afford, that does not make America great,” Patoine said. “It’s not about me, or you, or them. It’s about us.”
Beth Wiegleb, who attended Sunday’s rally, said she’s lucky to have her health and to have good coverage.
“The expenses are so high for many treatments that I wonder how people even with insurance but high deductibles make it,” she said. “And now if they dismantle the ACA, what will people do? Just be thrown to the wolves?”