I am a member and volunteer for The Vermont Workers’ Center, which is leading the fight to enforce Act 48, the Vermont Law, passed in 2011, that says all residents of Vermont have the right to receive publicly financed, high quality medical care– in other words, Universal, or Single-Payer Health Care. My membership with the VWC means I’ve attended an Orientation (and am now trained to lead New Member Orientations), paid my annual dues –albeit, a shamefully paltry sum, but it was what I could afford– and I agreed to do at least 5 hours of volunteer service for VWC, or any of its affiliated organization. I think I’ve done more like 500 hours in the last few months, but that’s because, unlike folks working full-time jobs and more, I have a more flexible schedule, and volunteer work is my way of earning what has been given to me; giving me a sense of purpose, and of being a valuable, contributing member of my community, despite my disabling conditions.
One of the things my community has contributed to my life is medical care, with very small co-pays on medications. Without it, I would possibly be dead by now. Without certain medications I would undoubtedly be confined to a wheelchair, probably screaming and/or crying constantly, and incapable of giving anything to anyone, let alone be capable of parenting. Still, the various limitations in coverage prevent me from accessing alternative methods of care that I prefer; namely, naturopathic care.
Yes, the medical plan does cover naturopathic office visits, as well as a few of the testing methods that are common to Western allopathic medicine, such as general blood tests that any doctor can order. But, the coverage does not include payments for the prescriptions that a naturopathic doctor prescribes, because those remedies are not manufactured by a pharmaceutical company. They are manufactured by nature. Herbs and nutrients, tinctures, medical foods and dietary changes are the common medicines prescribed by a naturopath. These medicines and remedies support a person’s whole health system, and require the patient to take an active responsibility for their return to a state of balanced health, rather than leaving in the hands of pharmaceuticals and the allopathic medical industry. But, these natural medicines are expensive! For someone living below the poverty line, this lack lack coverage for naturopathic remedies makes one’s preference for naturopathic care a moot point. What good is going to a naturopathic doctor if you can’t afford the remedies?
Another problem with my medical coverage is that I often cannot afford the co-pays, despite how little they are. Luckily, my pharmacist allows many of his patients/customers to run a tab, as long as there are continued good-faith payments being made on the account. When my account reaches a certain amount, I receive a call alerting me to the amount due, and letting me know it’s time to figure out which “Peter” to rob in order to catch up on the “Paul” that I owe. Those are the months that inevitably mean giving up on the very limited “luxuries” my daughter and I have, such as buying bus tokens, or having Netflix (forget having cable). How is my toilet paper situation? Is there enough to get through the month without stealing some from public bathrooms? I’ve already stopped buying laundry and dishwasher detergents, opting to make my own (it’s vastly cheaper and vastly better for the environment, by the way). Certainly my daughter and I can forgo Netflix for a month, but being connected to the internet is a must-have, as our homeschool lessons and other resources are found there, let alone connections to family and friends that keep a person sane!
Now, what can I do to lower the amount of my co-pays? Ah, yes, I can also take less medication: for example, the medications prescribed for 3 times a day can be cut down to 2 times a day, saving me 1/3 of the co-pays, and the tablets in another prescription, that are scored in the middle, can be cut in half, and cut the co-pays in half as well. Two other medications, prescribed to take one tablet per day, will be taken every-other-day instead, also cutting that co-pay in half. I can do this until I, and my Doc, notice various symptoms creeping back into my life.
It wasn’t quite so bad two years ago, but since then there has been a GOP led government shut down that ended with tens of millions of dollars in cuts to vital services for low income people. Then there was a “fiscal cliff”–that alone cut my household food stamps by almost $100.00 and increased my share of rent from 40% to 50% of my monthly income (the increase was over $90). Two more cuts have been made to food stamps alone, with one yet to be implemented.
Anyone who says Obama is a liberal Progressive can bite my @ss. In a side by side comparison with his more liberal actions, the number of his hard right actions (ie, NDAA, TPP, TIPP, etc) should provide all the evidence needed as proof that he is a Center Right politician, not a Liberal Lefty.
And now, it seems, the Governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin is taking his cues from the President. On December 17th he publicly reneged on his commitment to enact a Single Payer Health Care system. Remember, he rode into office on the tidal wave of supporters for Single Payer Health Care, and with him we passed Act 48, making universal health care the law of the land in Vermont. The law laid out defined markers of progress towards a 2017 full transition. Despite all the help and support from the VWC to work out the financial details, he chose instead to form a committee of pedigreed 1% professionals to come up with a detailed financial plan. Needless to say, those pedigreed and papered persons had no idea what it’s like to be middle class, or lower, and their ideas for financing our health care system showed it.
I went to one of the last committee meetings in Montpelier, before Shumlin abandoned us, and listened as they talked about having different levels of care, that would be available at certain degrees of cost, and never defining how those costs would be paid by the state budget. When I read the words on their hand-outs, and listened to them speak about the “Cadillac” level I thought, “why can’t I have Cadillac care?” and I realized they were basically redesigning the ACA/ObamaCare concept and expecting it to carry similar ranges of care and out-of-pocket costs, paid by the consumer.
I spoke up at that point, telling the panel that we all deserve Cadillac Care, and not Rust-bucket care, and that a Progressive tax would ensure that every resident of Vermont received the same kind and quality of care as the wealthiest person. Even without a progressive tax, the amount of money paid by employees and employers, as well as the exorbitant hundreds of millions paid out-of-pocket, by uninsured and under insured Vermonters for emergency care alone, shows us that the money IS already there. It is just being paid out unwisely, and costing more than it should–especially for emergency care for illnesses that could have been lessened, even prevented, had there been regular preventive care.
And yet, my state’s governor decided that “now is not the time” for a Single Payer Health Care system. I have to add my voice to the thousands of others at the VT Workers’ Center: when IS the time, if not now? Governor, this is exactly the time engage a Universal Health Care system. Instead of listening to a panel of pedigreed professionals, how about looking at the ideas and plans being offered by the people who supported you all the way into office? And into the passing of Act 48? If our models don’t look appealing, there are many handfuls of countries that are already using various tax and budgeting plans to support their successful socialized medical care, in which all residents –even foreigners who become ill in their countries– receive the same level of exceptional care. And in most of those countries, most of the wealthier people don’t complain that their taxes are paying for lazy bums. They seem to understand that a healthier population is better for the well-being of their country. (Don’t be fooled in thinking the US has the best medical care. We don’t. We rank near the bottom of the list for quality of medical care in industrialized countries. We are, however, in the #1 position for highest medical costs.)
Of course, the transition to Single-Payer is likely to be the most difficult time, and may be financially bungled and cumbersome, but in the long run? I can’t help but imagine that the enormous savings as a result of having a healthier population will bring overall costs down, especially with our state negotiating for lower costs with the insurance companies and getting better rates. Yes, the money is there already. It’s being spent in lost homes and wrecked lives, deaths and long term illnesses that could have been prevented. It’s being payed for by overworked and poorly paid employees, and unfair tax plans, and with plans being decided upon by unrestrained corporate masters and various religious overtones.
The best possible way to respond to the challenge of Health Care in Vermont is to be the champion for the Universal, Single Payer Law, that the people of Vermont voted for and for which we continue to demand its actualization.
Considerate and Constructive Comments are Welcomed! And please take a moment to Take the Poll! on my polling page
See what the Vermont Workers Center is doing, and link to the Workers’ Center in your state.