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And the Healing Has Begun? 

Inside Track

click to enlarge Deb Richter
  • Deb Richter

The state of Vermont has only one seat in the United States House of Representatives, and the person currently occupying it — Democrat Peter Welch — appears to have a pretty good grip on it. At the moment, no significant challenger is making noise in Republican circles, and an independent would be a longshot.

Ol’ Welchie, a 60-year-old attorney and former star of his own courthouse TV commercials, held a presser on health care Monday in Big Bad Burlap. He highlighted the legislation that passed the U.S. House and Senate last week. It would extend the State Children’s Health Insurance Program [SCHIP] to cover an additional five million low-income children.

Great, right?

Well, Congressman Welch (who has yet to see Michael Moore’s revolutionary health-care flick Sicko) and other “advocates” were trying to paint what happened in Washington as progress. But Dr. Deb Richter of Montpelier, one of Vermont’s health-care reform firebrands, would have none of it.

During a lunchtime interview on Church Street the other day, Dr. Richter pointed out that the new federal legislation touted by Welch and the Democrats, if passed and signed by the president, still won’t bring the federal system up to Vermont’s level when it comes to covering low-income kids!


INSIDE TRACK: What’s the state of health care right now?

DEB RICHTER: Keep in mind that the bill they passed in Washington is what we already have in Vermont with Dr. Dynasaur, which extends, essentially, coverage to people up to 300 percent of poverty — which is what this bill would do.

This would do what we already have in Vermont. And if we already have the best in Vermont, why are we even trying health-care reform?

We still have a problem with costs going through the roof and people losing more and more of their coverage. That’s happening because we don’t have a health-care system.

IT: But the President said, “C’mon, anybody can still go to the emergency room!”

DR: Oh, don’t you love that? And when was the last time you went to the emergency room to get your cancer treatment, huh? Or your blood pressure treated?

IT: Good point.

DR: Give me a break. Everyone uses that — you can go to the emergency room. Maybe if you get in a major car accident they’ll take care of you anyway, but should you lose your home because you happen to get in a car accident? It’s crazy. One big mess.

And we [in Vermont] have it better than the majority of the country. We have the second-best quality. Our costs are about 20 to 30 percent below the national average. We’ve got a really strong medical ethic. We have more people who are insured. Well, if that’s the case, then why are we still complaining?

If we brought Texas to where Vermont is, it would be an amazing feat. But still the problem wouldn’t be solved.

IT: And the fundamental problem is?

DR: And the fundamental problem is, we don’t have a health-care system, meaning we don’t have everybody in. We don’t pay for everybody’s care and we have no way of controlling the costs. And the only way we can do that — here it is in a nutshell: We need to pay for health care through taxes instead of through premiums.


Because then everybody has an involvement. You get sick, I pay for you. I get sick, you pay for me. And you pay based on your ability to pay. That’s it in a nutshell!

We will get costs under control when we finally pay for health care through taxes, because whenever the public pays for something, they scrutinize the spending. They look at it under a microscope, and I doubt very much that they would be paying CEOs $800,000 salaries. The public would get the job done for less — maybe only $300,000.

You know what? We need more primary care. So let’s pay doctors in primary care a little bit extra money and bring them in from other places. You know how many doctors we could get to come here if we paid them better and then simplified their life by eliminating the headache of the paperwork?

Most doctors I know will go for that in a heartbeat. No pun intended.

Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington caved to the Republican Douglas Administration at the end of the 2006 legislative session by agreeing to the “Catamount Health Care Affordability Act,” and that’s when hope for real reform dimmed in many circles. Dr. Deb, however, has no intention of giving up the fight.

There is currently a bill in the Vermont House, she noted, that would move Vermont down the road to public financing — what the GOP candidates for president love to condemn as “socialized medicine.”

It certainly appears to deliver for the Canadians, eh?

DR: The bill (H.304, the Vermont Hospital Security Plan) would basically be public financing of hospital coverage for all Vermonters.

IT: It’s like the Michael Moore movie?

DR: Imagine what this would do. First of all, premiums would drop significantly because the biggest part of your health-insurance premium is hospital coverage.

IT: Really?

DR: Yes, it would drop significantly. So all Vermonters’ premiums in the entire state would go down. What do you think about that?

Lower insurance costs. And administrative costs would go down, because you would no longer have to do any billing. Do you ever get a hospital bill, Peter?

IT: Yes. I get them almost everyday.

DR: It’s ridiculous!

So here’s what we’d do. We would negotiate a budget with Fletcher Allen, and we would give them that amount. Every two weeks they’d get a payment so they could pay their nurses, their doctors, dieticians, people who scrub the floors, whatever, and they would run the hospital and no longer do any billing, OK?

It would be good for the hospitals. They would no longer have to go begging. If they felt that in order to keep good nurses we’ve got to pay them more, there would be money available for that. This gives them a lot of flexibility.

Only problem so far is, the hospitals are not fond of it, nor is the Statehouse establishment or the Fifth Floor. We won’t have true health-care reform in Vermont and the U.S. until everybody’s in fair and square — just like the folks in the rest of the “civilized” world.


Getting Personal — As regular readers know, health care became an up-close-and-personal issue for yours truly this year with our January diagnosis of cancer, i.e., non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It’s a cancer that spreads through the immune system.

As the year rolled along, we rolled along through eight all-day chemotherapy treatments conducted every three weeks. And we became quite appreciative of that four-story underground parking garage on Hospital Hill — the overpriced one that led to the conviction and imprisonment of Fletcher Allen Health Care CEO Bill Boettcher.

(Thanks, Bill! Access to the FAHC Oncology Center was terrific. Hope the jail thingy wasn’t too bad.)

Last Monday, we went in for our last PET scan. Don’t ask me to explain it — it’s modern technology at its multimillion-dollar, radioactive best. Essentially, a PET scan gets a picture of what’s going on inside, and it’s truly amazing.

Turned out the other person in the waiting room was a gent I’ve known for 25 years, though I haven’t seen him in the last couple. Unlike yours truly, Dave knew exactly where things stood. He had colorectal cancer and he knew it was “terminal.” He had accepted that, and we had a great chat about “life.”

In my case, I still was waiting to see if the cancer remained or had spread or what.

One thing that I’ve learned in the last seven months is to live one day at a time and make it count. Over in cyberspace, the Freyne Land blog became a daily column. Certain Vermont politicians may not have liked that, but c’est la vie!

Anyway, my doctor’s appointment to find out the results was moved up to Tuesday. The envelope, please!

Eric Pillemer, MD, has been an oncologist for about as long as we’ve been a columnist — a long time. No beating around the bush with Dr. Pillemer. Much appreciated. He popped the “before” and “after” shots on the computer screen.

“A complete remission!” he announced.

We walked into the doc’s office prepared to be told we have a few months to live and instead got the word that the cancer’s gone.

Everything for a reason, right?

P.S. Our heart goes out to all those who sent expressions of support and concern over this year. Many said they appreciated our openness in writing about having cancer.

Yes, folks, it is OK to talk about it. We are, after all, all in this together.

Too bad the boys running our country don’t realize that, eh?


On the Line — Should be an autumn to remember this year, and we’re not talking about the fall colors in Vermont. We’re talking about our nation’s capital and campuses as we head into the last autumn before the 2008 presidential election kicks into high gear.

And what an election it will be, eh?

About three-quarters of the populace has no trust whatsoever in the current regime, one in which it appears President George “WMD” Bush does everything Vice President Dick Cheney and Senior Policy Advisor Karl Rove tell him to do.

And look where it’s gotten us.

Vermont U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy absolutely unloaded on the Bush team in an interview the other day published on — one of those hot new Capitol Hill websites that’s eager to get beneath the surface.

St. Patrick told Roger Simon, “History will not be kind to the arrogance and indifference to law shown by this White House.”

Vermont’s senior senator said Bush’s gift to the United States Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts, has turned that court into an “arm of the Republican Party.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer that nobody trusts, “has undermined law enforcement in America,” said the tall, bald gentleman from Vermont. “I don’t trust him. He gives me the impression that he is someone to whom telling the truth does not come naturally.”

And President Bush has stated, added Leahy, “in effect, that he is a law unto himself, and the president can overrule the law, the courts and congressional actions.”

He’s not sugarcoating it, is he?

“I am not sure the president realizes what he has done with the court,” said St. Patrick. “He was told by Dick Cheney and others, ‘This is what you are going to do.’”

As everyone knows, Leahy of Vermont, the former Chittenden County State’s Attorney from the days when smoking cigarettes was cool, has been a Washington regular since the mid-1970s. He’s survived six presidents so far. How does George W. compare?

“He does not measure up to any of the others,” said the Vermonter. “I have never seen any introspection in him, with the possible exception of the comprehensive immigration bill, and election-year politics pushed him away from that. Our vice president has an inordinate amount of control over him.”


And we will never forget the hallowed words that Vice President Control, er, Cheney, delivered on “Meet the Press” on the morning of March 16, 2003:

“Given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, it’s only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons. And in light of that, we have to be prepared, I think, to take the action that is being contemplated . . .

“I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

More than four years later, the never-drafted Dick Cheney is still running the country. Our country.

You sure it’s not a movie?

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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