The national spotlight will again be on Vermont tomorrow, as one of Pres. Barack Obama's regional health care forums occurs in Burlington.
The midday event takes place at the University of Vermont's Davis Center and will be hosted by Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. Other New England governors and health care officials will be onhand as well.
Pres. Obama is scheduled to briefly address the gathering via video, as he did at the first regional health care summit in Michigan.
"We can't simply just add on a whole bunch of people to abroken system because that is also unsustainable," Obama told the crowd in Michigan, according to Reuters."The cost issue is what we think is the big driver in thiswhole debate."
The 90-minute forum isn't really designed to craft new health care policy, but to give various programs and policies their 15, or fewer, minutes of fame before members of the Obama administration.
Advocates of a so-called single-payer system — including Dr. Deb Richter of Vermont Health Care for All— have been invited to participate in the forum, but are upset that neither the Obama administration nor the regional officials in attendance support a single-payer solution. Organizers expect 300-500 protestors from around New England to greet attendees.
"All polls," said Richter, "show that we hold the majority opinion. To fix the problems the focus must include more than the uninsured. All of us are having problems with paying insurance. All the evidence shows that a publicly-financed system — something like Medicare — could save money and cover everyone.
"By excluding us from any substantive discussion of health care reform confines us to what we call the marginalized majority. It is time for our leaders to take single payer seriously," Richter added.
Richter said the majority of physicians support a single-payer system, and points to more than 20 years of evidence, published in the peer-reviewed medical literature, about why single payer is the only proposal that will lower costs and guarantee access for all."
Richter is puzzled by Obama's reluctance to consider the single-payer option. "We understood why we were the 'marginalized majority' under Bush but under Obama?" Richter asks.
Pres. Obama does not appear to favor a single-payer system as the cure-all for the current US health care woes — at least as president. In 2003 he told a gathering of union members that he did, in fact, support the single-payer model.
The Vermont Worker's Center is also working on a statewide push for greater reform of the state's health care system, and will host a May 1 rally in Montpelier urging lawmakers to view health care as a human right.
Single-payer debate aside, Gov. Douglas said Vermont will get to showcase some of its own efforts at the forum.
“This is a great opportunity for Vermont to showcase our groundbreaking efforts on health care reform to our region and the nation,” Douglas said. “By focusing on prevention to lower cost and increasing access to health care for more residents, Vermont continues to lead the nation on this important issue."
Douglas has resisted more sweeping reform measures in Vermont, especially ones that are publicly-funded or managed. His rejection of such reform several years ago forced a compromise. That compromise is known as Catamount Health, a public-private insurance program that provides coverage for Vermonters who have lost health care coverage at work, or are not eligible for other plans. The state also helps some workers pay for employer-based health care coverage they cannot otherwise afford.
UPDATE: Regional White House Forums on Health Reform will also be held in California, Iowa and North Carolinathroughout the rest of March and early April. People across the country can visit www.HealthReform.gov to submit their questions and ideas and join the debate.
The Vermont forum will be streamed live tomorrow at www.HealthReform.gov.