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posted December 1, 2006

Why not universal coverage?

By most accounts, Vermont’s latest health care reform legislation (Catamount Health) puts Vermont in first place among U.S. states on the road toward an equitable, socially responsible, and efficient health system.

Yet, even if it is successful, Catamount Health will still represent only a step, and much of the journey toward cost-effective, universal, comprehensive, and preventive health care will still lie ahead. A great deal of arduous, contentious, and slow effort will still remain, separating Vermont from the norm in the other forty-odd advanced industrial nations.

Why is it so hard? Oh, we could agonize, wring our hands, shake our heads, get theoretical. Which we do. But the simple answer is: money.

Here’s a modest proposal for the Vermont General Assembly. Contact the five or six nations with the best health care systems in terms of both efficiency and results — e.g., Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden — and invite them to clone their system in, say, Windham County for testing purposes. Commercially, of course, but not for an extra $2,500 per inhabitant per year. Let them all pitch for the business, and select the winner. Forget about re-inventing it all here. Test the whole approach: health care financing, medical records systems, pharmaceuticals management, hospitals and clinics, preventive care, long-term care, wellness programs, the whole thing. Learn from the experience. Roll out an appropriately adapted version of it across the state. License unique software and other intellectual property from the foreign source. Import their technology. Get them to manufacture it in Vermont for the U.S. market. It’s got to be cheaper and faster and better than the approach we’re currently taking.

What’s in it for them? Why would the British National Health Service or the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs be interested in something like this? They are not private entrepreneurs. No, they are not. The answer: export promotion. Their health care systems are supported by thousands of private vendors: medical technology companies, software firms, pharmaceuticals companies, consultants, hospital architects, service providers — many of them world leaders. Windham County is only one of 3,143 counties, parishes, and independent municipalities in the USA. Vermont has only 0.21 percent of the US population. It could be the razor-thin end of the wedge, a first tiny stepping stone to a vastly larger market, as the United States comes around and realizes it could be spending 6 percent of its GDP in a far more productive fashion, and getting a lot more for another 9 percent, and creating a more just, equitable society at the same time. It could be fire against fire: a massive commercial interest in changing the country’s health care system for the better against a massive commercial interest in keeping it the same.

Think about it. Vermont’s people, local governments, and private sector could gain a lot by having it happen here first. Globalization can work for us, too.
Ralph Meima
Brattleboro

Thanks, Bernie
While we collectively give way to a sigh of relief for the end of a grueling campaign season in Vermont, I would like to recognize the integrity of the Sanders for Senate campaign.

It was a well-run, clean-cut campaign about clear choices on important issues. We can look forward to hearing more about important issues from Sen. Sanders. Vermonters should be well informed about Verizon’s plans to sell its plan to sell landlines, the unavailability of adequate Internet services to many Vermont residents and businesses, and the politics of access to meaningful health care reform to name a few issues that will percolate in the Green Mountain State in the coming months.

We can count on Sanders’ voice to lead the debate on finding workable solutions for Vermonters. Vermont, and the nation, are well-served by Sanders’ commitment and common sense. Once again, I would like to thank Sanders for his hard work.
Jill Charbonneau
Middlebury
Jill Charbonneau is the executive vice president of the Vermont State Labor Council AFL-CIO.

Start your engines
The voters of this country have just done a beautiful thing — declared to ourselves, our leaders, and the rest of the world, that we will no longer follow along willingly as the Republican right wing leads the nation into disrepute.

Exit polls from around the country showed that we are overwhelmingly fed up with this illegal war and with the corruption, hypocrisy, and lawbreaking of so many in the Republican Party.

Just before the election, Howard Dean made the assertion that the Democrats would not go down the road to impeachment. Rather, he asserted that a Democratic takeover of Congress would be in response to the Democrats’ “positive message,” addressing issues like raising the minimum wage, health care, etc.

Dean has it exactly backwards. For six years, the Bush administration has operated as it wished, regardless of the law or the Constitution. When we complained to the Democrats and called for action, we were told that we were wasting our breath with a Republican Congress in power. So we voted the Republican Congress the hell out of power precisely so the Dems could quit moaning and do something. If the Republicans had not so fully abused their power, we would have spread our wrath to all incumbents. Instead, we have spared the Democrats, and dumped the whole mess in their laps — one last chance to make good as it were.

The Dean/Pelosi position against impeachment is understandable. Impeaching Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney (you can’t have one without the other) could appear to be an unseemly power grab, handing the presidency to Pelosi and politicizing the debate.

Instead, we citizens will frame the debate about accountability. People from towns in every corner of the nation are drafting and circulating petitions calling for an end to the war in Iraq, and for impeachment investigations of Bush and Cheney to be initiated.
By the time the next Congress convenes in January, there will be impeachment and end the war resolutions on the town meeting agendas of scores if not hundreds of New England towns. There will be active efforts in several state legislatures to get impeachment resolutions based on Jefferson’s manual p603 passed and sent on to the U.S. Congress.

It is up to us to put on the pressure so that by the time the next Congress is sworn in, the members will know that we expect our leaders to be held accountable for their actions. When the Democrats can truthfully say that they are only bowing to the demands of their constituents, they will be happy to start meaningful investigations. Any such investigation, if not leading to impeachment, would at least hamstring the Bush administration, which could save us from further disastrous military adventures in Iran and elsewhere.

This election is more of an opportunity than it was a victory. While the Democrats savor their win, let’s surround them with an urgency that they cannot ignore. Let calls for withdrawal from Iraq, petitions for impeachment, letters demanding restoration of lost constitutional rights, and demands for government accountability resound so loudly that our politicians fear for the collapse of their marbled halls.

It no longer matters if our politicians have no spines, as long as we give them ours. This is the best and first opportunity that we have had in years to have an affect on the course of our nation. Let us each act now and know that we haven’t failed the ideals upon which this country was founded.
Dan DeWalt
Newfane

Our work is not done
Two-thirds or better of the used car salesmen and lawyers in Congress (i.e., the Democrats) have voted with Pres. George W. Bush for all his wars and “war powers” and against democracy, the rule of law, U.S. freedoms, and the Constitution. It is true, and you can look it up. So, why did so many fall for the obvious fiction that it was important to send Peter Welch, not Martha Rainville, to Washington?

Are you done now and at rest again? Is that it? Thanksgiving has come and gone. Is that all we’re going to do for our country?
Dennis Morrisseau
West Pawlet

What to be thankful for
Now that the Thanksgiving bird has been reduced to a few freezer baggies, this is a good moment to reflect on what we have to be particularly thankful for this year. I am thankful that the election has come and gone, and Vermonters turned out in record numbers to participate in their future. I am thankful that Senator-elect Bernie Sanders and Congressman-elect Peter Welch took the high road to election victory, never stooping to negative campaign tactics. I am thankful that Martha Rainville also maintained the high ground. Even as the polls slipped away from her, she resisted any temptation to tarnish a sterling future for her in elected office with negative ads.

We proved once again that Vermonters have an independent spirit, a discerning grasp of the “big picture,” and are not easily distracted by shiny objects and misleading ads.

But now we can’t just relax and assume that we have no further responsibility to bring the country back on track. Individually, we have to keep advocating for effective change; reminding our representatives of the tremendous investment of faith they carry with them to Washington; and creating a thunderous voice in the media for responsible, humane legislative initiatives. We must make education for our children a priority, protect the sick and the elderly, stabilize our vanishing middle class, secure our traditional liberties, and return our international position to that of the high ground. If we fall silent again, and assume that the changes we have made to our legislative line-up should do the job for us, we will be sadly disappointed.

We may have leftovers to bag, but millions of others in this country do not. We may have decent jobs with decent wages, but millions of others do not. We may send our children to school every day with the confidence that they will be safe and well served by their education, but can we have that same confidence for our children’s children?

We’ve taken the first step forward toward reclaiming our democracy. Let’s never forget how good that felt.
Sue Prent
St. Albans

The words the media uses
I would like to comment on the language that is used in media. Language is a powerful tool, and in accurate reporting, language matters.

I appreciate everything everyone goes through to get the news to us, and doing it objectively. I understand that in reporting news you need to be neutral. The media is a very powerful tool that millions listen to and read. While the words “domestic dispute” sound objective, I feel it is deceiving. A dispute is an argument between couples of equal power that don’t, nor do they, become abusive or deadly.

It is being reported that the alleged murder-suicide in Lyndonville was a dispute. This is violence. Women who are beaten and killed don’t have a say in the argument, or even in their lives.

The mere word “dispute” minimizes the action; it makes domestic violence sound not so bad. What’s the message we are sending to our children. I would like to think that together we can educate the community, and the media could choose different language, and these cases could be more accurately reported.
Diana Gossellin
Shoreham

Will you be able to tell them the truth?
Well, Black Friday has come and gone. The alternative to this mad shopping is Buy Nothing Day and it seemed to take on more of an urgency for me this year.

This year, we have seemed to turn a corner of sorts in regards to public awareness of global warming.

I did honor Buy Nothing Day while at the same time trying hard to keep my relationships positive with those in my life who are still caught up in the “sale frenzy.” My approach to the futility of this yearly ritual is to have the long view. Wanting us all to wake up and try to figure our way out of this mess, is, of course, where I go when I think about what world my kids and grandkids will inherit.

Recent news about global warming provides us with two high-profile disaster warnings that will take your breath away. As a result of a major study, the journal Science published information that it is likely there will be a near-total collapse of global fisheries within the next 40 years. Eminent NASA scientist Dr. James E. Hansen has publicly stated that we have about 10 years left to reduce our carbon releases; after that period of time, nothing we do will be likely to help (Nov. 17, Vermont Guardian).

All of this gloom and doom can in fact instill a sense of futility. We have all heard or thought, “What I do won’t really matter.” This pervasive myth perhaps is the greatest obstacle for most in our community who remain concerned with what we are doing to Earth.

So to become good ancestors means that we take action now. When our grandchildren sit down with us someday and ask, “Did you know about global warming? Did you do anything to stop it?” you will be able to tell them the truth.
Michael O’Brien
Rutland
Michael O’Brien is the coordinator of the Rutland Regional Sustainability Network.