Vermonters discuss future of health care (11/19/09)

Forum held in Williston

Nov. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The health care debate took center stage Tuesday night at the Williston Central School auditorium. A panel of Vermont speakers discussed how current health care reform proposals in Washington D.C. would be detrimental to the country if enacted.

Five panelists, including a lawyer, a family physician and a former legislator, talked about how federal health care proposals could raise taxes on Americans and lead to rationed care.

None of the panelists advocated for the current health care reforms.

“It will be the very old and the very young that will bare the brunt of rationing,” said William Sayre, an economist formerly with the Federal Reserve.

Sayre is also a member of Gov. Jim Douglas’ council of economic advisors.

The nearly three-hour meeting, called the “Rx for Healthcare Reform,” was sponsored by the Ethan Allen Institute, a free-market public policy think tank in Burlington. Vermonters for Choice in Healthcare and True North Radio, a local talk radio program, co-sponsored the event.

Speakers focused mainly on the health care proposals put forth by President Barack Obama and various members of Congress. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, sending it to the Senate and calling for sweeping reform in the health care industry, including the creation of a government-run public option plan.

Several speakers argued the public option was unconstitutional and would lead to a decline in overall health care and standard of living.

“Only if there is a public option can you make rapid advances towards a single-payer, Canadian-style health care system,” Sayre said. “The public option will drive out private insurers.”

“The role of government is to serve the interests of the people, not control them,” added Steven James Howard, a Rutland attorney and interim state coordinator for the Vermont Campaign for Liberty.

Also briefly discussed were two state health care reform proposals that will be brought up in the next legislative session beginning in January. House bill H.100 and Senate Bill S.88 would enact universal health coverage to Vermonters should the federal plan fail, said John McClaughry, former president of the Ethan Allen Institute who also served in the Vermont House and Senate.

Both state and federal proposals would drive up taxes and add billions of dollars to the national deficit.

“It should alarm every thinking American, even those that believe every citizen should have access to health care,” McClaughry said.

Besides listening to the various speakers, the audience, numbering nearly 100, was able to ask questions. A woman who identified herself as a resident of Isle La Motte said she worried about how the proposed health care overhauls would affect her ability to receive needed medication. She said she’s taking a “miracle drug” for her condition and it costs $1,600 a month, which is covered by her insurance plan. She fears Obama’s plan would deem her medication too expensive to be covered.

“I’m scared,” she said. “I don’t know what will happen. I don’t think the government will pay to cover an illness that may not kill me.”

The panelists agreed with the woman that her medication could become an issue under proposals in what they called “Obamacare.” The speakers offered solutions to the issues raised in the health care reform bills, as well as keys to fix current problems with the country’s health care system.

Sayre and McClaughry said allowing for fuller charge disclosure in health care costs between doctors and patients could help drive down costs, as could insurance companies offering healthy choice discounts and creating more health savings accounts. Health savings accounts act as separate tax-free bank accounts for individuals to spend on doctor visits and procedures.

Dr. Robert Emmons, a Burlington physician, said costs would be lowered if patients stopped paying through third party insurance companies. He suggested that patients, if possible, pay their doctors directly. It drives down health care costs and it’s the way Emmons runs his practice, he said.

“The patient is making the decisions about quality and effectiveness, not someone far away looking at a computer screen,” Emmons said.

Howard suggested people get more involved by telling legislators in Washington, D.C. and Montpelier that the current health care reform proposals are unacceptable. By reminding legislators to hold firm to the constitution, perhaps the federal and state bills can be defeated, Howard said.

“If we held (legislators) responsible to the constitution, they wouldn’t be doing this,” Howard said. “Both sides of the aisle have good intentions, but you know what? The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”