• Health care rally aims to keep the pressure on
     | May 02,2010

    Demonstrators shout and wave signs supporting a health care overhaul in Vermont during a rally in Montpelier on Saturday.

    MONTPELIER - Singing, music, dancing and theater kept a health care rally in Montpelier festive Saturday, but the hundreds of people who took part were trying to hammer home a message they couldn't take more seriously.

    "We believe that health care is a human right for all people regardless of their income," Sen. Bernie Sanders shouted from the Statehouse steps to the buoyant crowd below, which appeared to number around 1,000.

    The mid-day rally began at City Hall. After the performance of folk songs there, it wound its way down State Street to the Capitol.

    The rally was part of the "Health Care is a Human Right" campaign that the Vermont Workers' Center launched in 2008 to try to change what is politically possible for health care reform. A similar rally was held last year.

    The rally Saturday was both a celebration of the group's accomplishments and an effort to make sure the health care bill pending in the Legislature is the strongest it can be, according to a news release from the workers' center.

    That bill, S.88, sponsored by state Sen. Doug Racine, calls for hiring a consultant to design potential new health care models for Vermont, including a single-payer system.

    The House passed the bill April 23, making additions that expand the Blueprint for Health program and cap annual hospital budget increases. The Senate is expected to hold a final vote on the bill this week.

    It isn't clear whether Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, will sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. His spokesman has said Douglas likes parts of the bill but has "strong concerns" about others.

    Many at the rally Saturday said the federal health care bill signed into law this year, and the bill pending in the Legislature, are steps in the right direction. But many will be unsatisfied until there is a universal single-payer system.

    "I think what they're pushing for here is a much better program," said St. Albans resident Sandra Behan as she stood in front of City Hall.

    Behan said it's sad to see donation jars in convenience stores with pictures of kids whose families are trying to raise money for treatment.

    "This is America," she said. "It shouldn't be this way."

    Andrea Powell, of Rutland, said she had a close friend, James Mott, who died in 1996 at age 30. She believes his lack of access to health care played a role.

    Powell held a sign that read: "In memory of James (Jim) Mott. Died Age 30. Held 3 jobs. No insurance."

    Mott suffered from anemia, said Powell, but she was unclear on what ultimately killed him.

    "All I know is he couldn't afford the care he needed," she said.

    Barry Kade, from Montgomery, is 66 and recently became eligible for Medicare. He said the reality is that people put off seeking treatment when they don't have insurance because health care is so expensive, something he did for years.

    "I've got Medicare. So should everybody else," Kade said.

    A group from southern Vermont performed a skit during the rally based on "The Wizard of Oz" that criticized opponents of a single-payer health care system for using scare tactics.

    "Liars and tyrants and scares, oh my," they chanted.

    The wicked witch represented a "greedy insurance company" and she melted after "single-payer water" was thrown on her.

    There didn't appear to be any counter-protesters at the event. The Vermont Workers' Center estimated that about 1,500 people participated in the rally, though Montpelier police would give no estimate of the crowd size.

    About 700 marchers could be seen, and a representative of the workers' center said 150 to 250 people were already at the Statehouse.

    David Kreindler, a Montpelier resident and a volunteer for the Vermont Workers' Center, told the crowd he wished he had more time to speak, but he summed up where he believes the movement for health care reform stands.

    "The gist of it is this," Kreindler said. "We are winning, but we have a long way to go before we've won."

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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