Congressman hosts forum in Williston
Oct. 15, 2009
By Mariana Lamaison Sears
Many audience comments during a Congressional Forum on Health Care on Saturday morning at Williston Central School centered — one way or another — around the one question that has been debated since the inception of the United States.
Observer photo by Mariana Lamaison Sears
Audience members attend a Congressional Forum on Health Care on Saturday. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch hosted the forum, which brought supporters and opponents of health care reform to Williston Central School.
How much government control do Americans want?
“This debate will take generations,” said U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, whose office organized the forum to discuss proposed legislation on health care reform. The U.S. House will soon move toward a vote on H.R. 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, the Democratic congressman said.
In the case of health care, Welch said, some government structure will be needed — the same way it is needed to run fire departments.
“There’s got to be a balance. We have to have government involvement to succeed individually,” he said.
The comments were Welch’s response to a number of individuals among the approximately 150 forum attendees who were more concerned with the loss of personal freedom than the specifics of the proposed bill.
“This thing is not about health care. It’s about government taking over our lives,” said Ellie Martin of Jericho.
Meanwhile, a similar number of attendants leaned in the opposite direction.
“I believe health care is a human right, not a commodity,” said Matt McGrath of Charlotte, a member of the Vermont Workers Center and a strong supporter of a government-run health care system, also known as single-payer.
Welch agreed that health care is a human right and said he would support a single-payer option, but said there is not enough political support in the House for such a reform at this time.
“We don’t have a vote for it,” Welch said.
Instead, the proposed bill intends to close gaps and improve imperfections in the current system, which Welch called unsustainable. Average heath care spending represents 19 percent of a family’s income and will increase to 48 percent by 2029 if the system continues to work as it is, he said during his 20-minute slide-show presentation.
Also, health insurance premiums are increasing faster than wages, and the high number of uninsured people — an estimated 47 million in 2006, according to numbers presented by Welch from the U.S Census Bureau — has created an extra annual cost of $1,100 to the average insured family.
“Obviously, it’s not sustainable,” Welch said.
H.R. 3200 — a 1,017-page document that can be accessed online — has three main elements that Welch said he strongly supports: insurance reform, accessibility and a public option.
In the case of insurance reform, the proposed bill prevents insurance companies from discriminating against patients with pre-existing conditions, eliminates co-pays for preventive medicine and puts a cap on out-of-pocket expending.
In terms of accessibility, the bill would provide coverage to the uninsured and reduces the extra cost currently burdening the insured.
Lastly, the proposed bill creates a government-run plan — the public option — to compete with private insurance companies. The option would abide by the same rules imposed on private insurers. Participation in this plan would be voluntary. The public option is what has generated the most controversy, Welch explained.
“I see it as competition … an added choice,” he said.
“I don’t feel there should be any competition over my health care,” said Matt Kimball of Burlington, a supporter of universal health care.
“I want to be in control of my own health care,” said Pat Crocker, a pediatric occupational therapist from Essex.
Crocker said she thinks health insurance should not be employer-based, so the individual can carry it wherever she or he goes.
Scott Eorisman, a licensed mental health counselor at Catamount Center in Williston, said the system is not serving the people, and profit should be taken out of the health care equation.
Some people advocated for the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines, others supported tort reform and some expressed strong opinions against tax money being used for abortions.
Another woman shared conconcerns about having the government pay for abortions. Welch said no public money would fund abortions.
Before leaving, Welch praised the audience for expressing dissenting views while keeping a respectful atmosphere.
The congressman will host a second public forum Oct. 17 in White River Junction.
Health care reform
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch will hold a second Congressional Forum on Health Care this Saturday, at 3:30 p.m. in White River Junction. The forum takes place at Hartford High School, 73 Highland Ave.
A copy of H.R. 3200 is available online at http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090714/aahca.pdf.