False Hope and Empty Promises

By Richard Davis

This is the time of year when politicians at all levels make the rest of us realize that there are promises more unrealistic than New Year’s resolutions.

We hear statements about how they are going to work to close the gap between the left and the right. We hear about ambitious agendas to make life better for everyone.

Then reality sets in and those politicians pander to special interests and they make it clear that their highest priority is getting re-elected. The public statements rarely match the results of political wrangling.

There is one issue in particular that has been pushed to the back burner for a number of years. In the mid-nineties and into about 2010 there was a lot of talk about health care reform. States such as Vermont tried to make bold moves to set up model systems and it started to look like meaningful reform might happen.

Vermont’s governor during some of those years was Peter Shumlin and he pushed an ambitious health care reform agenda. In the end he abandoned reform efforts saying that the state could not afford to move forward with the plans being proposed. That marked the death of health care reform in Vermont.

States that supported health care reform efforts pushed for reform on the national level because it became clear to them that the enormity of the task was too big for any individual state. Things looked hopeful when the Obama administration was able to pass the Affordable Care Act.

The law was weak but it was a step in the right direction. Activists held out hope that the bill could be a foundation for a new type of health care system that would provide universally accessible and affordable care. After the bill was passed, there was some tinkering around the edges and Republicans tried to trash the new law calling it a socialist takeover of health care.

Years before all of this was happening there was a move to push the Medicare program into the private sector, an effort that is now in full throttle. That is what Medicare Advantage is all about and the program is thriving despite findings of massive fraud and abuse by private insurance companies. If things progress as they are now Medicare may no longer be a government-run program when the children of baby boomers need it.

The only serious effort to push a health care reform agenda in the past 10 years has come from Senator Bernie Sanders and a few other Washington politicians including Senator-Elect Peter Welch. Bernie has introduced Medicare for All legislation. Health care reform was one of his top priorities during his runs for President and he continues to keep the pressure on for Medicare for All, but the effort is not getting enough traction on the national level.

In Vermont it has been too many years without politicians even talking about health care reform when they outline their agenda for change. This year is no different. They tinker around the edges while people suffer and die because they can’t afford to go to the hospital or see a doctor.

Despite the fact that Vermont has one of the lowest rates of uninsured people, the non-system that attempts to provide care remains convoluted and difficult to understand and access. Health care reform is not an easy political task. It requires years of dogged persistence and a level of altruistic activism that we are not likely to see in my lifetime.

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