Vermonters from across the state — from Middlebury to Hartford — attended a Health Care for All Town Hall in Montpelier Thursday night, calling on lawmakers to continue moving forward on creating a universal health care system in Vermont.
Gathered inside the Montpelier High School auditorium, people told their personal stories about the importance of accessible, affordable, and available health care — recovering from addiction, being heard and supported medically in identifying as a transgender woman, being on Medicare because of age or disability, or being unable to afford crushing medical costs for life-saving procedures.
One by one, these Vermonters testified for the need for an health care system in Vermont that cares for everyone - no exceptions. A system in which everybody is in, and nobody is out.
Many spoke out in favor of the current legislation stalled in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that would provide universal primary care for every Vermonter.
The full video is embedded below, but you can also watch it here.
Individuals testified before a panel that included Dr. Deb Richter, a physician and longtime advocate for universal health care, Sen. Anthony Pollina, Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, who sits on the House Health Care Committee, Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, of Vermont Interfaith Action, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.
Gov. Phil Scott was invited but did not attend. A chair with the sign, "Reserved Gov. Phil Scott" remained on stage.
"I wish I could say the governor sent me here on his behalf, but unfortunately he didn’t," said Zuckerman.
The event occurred on the day that the GOP in Congress and President Donald Trump resurrected a health care bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"Despite the recent defeat of the disastrous Trump administration and House GOP health care bill a few weeks ago, Republicans are still committed to rolling back gains made under the ACA, destroying Medicaid, and eventually going after Medicare," noted Jessica Early, RN, a Rights & Democracy health care leader and emcee for the evening. "Just today they have renewed their efforts and resurrected the bill in an even more damaging form. The leader of the House Freedom Caucus and the more moderate Tuesday Group came out with an amendment to the American Health Care Act that would allow states to waive key protections like essential health benefits and rules barring annual and lifetime insurance payment caps and higher charges for people with pre-existing conditions. Republicans in the House hope to vote on this new incarnation of the bill next week."
Early noted that the House GOP plan would have tremendous fallout for the health and well-being of thousands of Vermonters and our state’s economy. "So my patients and people throughout this state and country need all of us who helped block the Republican plan to keep on resisting. We need to hear the voice of every Vermonter who wants to protect health care for their friends, family, neighbors, and communities," she added. "Which is why we are here today."
In his brief address to attendees, Zuckerman talked about the importance of staying engaged and calling and emailing lawmakers about important pieces of legislation.
"As advocates for change, we have to be outspoken, we have to be present, and we have to turn out. We have to be present in our system of democracy,” said Zuckerman. “You probably budget a half hour or so a few times a week to jog, or practice an instrument, or some other hobby. Can you not budget 15-20 minutes week for democracy?
"The way that you're doing change the system and shore up your legislators is to make calls, send emails to lawmakers. “They do matter,” he said.
Richter told the crowd, in no uncertain terms, the stakes at not passing universal health care.
“We’re here tonight to talk about the human costs of inaction,” she said. Richter told anecdotes of two patients: One a recovering heroin addict and another with a high deductible insurance plan. Both stopped, or delayed, treatment because they couldn’t afford to pay for their share of the health care costs required by their insurance.
“That is a crime,” said Richter. “This is something that we can do [pass universal health care], but we won’t do it unless you get active.”
Walter Carpenter, of Montpelier, who has been a longtime citizen advocate for universal health care told the crowd that many Vermonters are making life and death choices - based on money - every date.
"About eight years ago I stood in the same auditorium and asked the audience and panel a question. Eight years have gone by and I ask the same question of the audience and panel the same question. The question is - how much is your live worth to you if you had to save it? $5,000, $10,000, $20,000, $50,000, $100,000, $200,000? When you make this decision it could mean years of pulverizing medical debt."
Carpenter said he was faced with such a decision 10 years ago.
"Each year, Vermonters are asked to ask themselves, how much their lives are worth in dollars and cents," said Carpenter. "Which do we value - our lives or economy more?"
If you would like to stay engaged, here's what you can do:
- Share your health care story on RAD's website, and encourage family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to do the same.
- Sign up to get alerts about upcoming health care fights for Universal Primary Care and other key issues and joining RAD's healthcare Justice team to help us build our work on these campaigns.
- Let our Gov. Phil Scott know that his absence and inaction on protecting our health care is NOT unnoticed. You can do so by signing RAD's letter asking him to publicly advocate for Vermonters’ health care.
- Please also consider becoming a Rights & Democracy contributing member to allow us to continue lifting up the voices of Vermonters.