Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., speaks on health care reform Wednesday morning at the Franklin Conference Center in Rutland on Tuesday.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said the state can make health care work if we take the same attitude to our neighbors in normal times that we do in disasters.
Welch gave the opening remarks Wednesday before a talk by Robin Lunge, state director of health care reform, on Vermont Health Connect, the online insurance marketplace that launches next week.
The Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce event took place at Franklin Conference Center in Rutland.
Welch described going through Pittsfield on an ATV after Tropical Storm Irene, before the flooded-out roads reopened. He came across a man sitting atop a camper in his driveway.
The stream had changed direction, ripping away two-thirds of his land and half of his house, Welch said, and the man had just learned he did not have flood insurance.
Despite that, the man told Welch not to worry about him, but rather a woman down the road who had two children. Welch said that attitude was typical of what he encountered after Irene.
“We need that attitude to implement this health bill,” he said.
Welch also talked about Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act, discussing how the reform law was approved by Congress and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court before a presidential election in which the candidate supporting the law was re-elected and the one opposing it was defeated.
He noted that the act was targeted by threats to defund the program or close down the government to prevent it from taking effect.
“Can you imagine not paying your bills?” Welch said. “They’re having that debate right now. ... I don’t think we’ll shut down the government at the end of the day. It’s too damaging.”
Welch admitted that the system won’t work perfectly right away. As the reforms are implemented, Welch urged business owners to contact lawmakers with whatever practical problems that might arise, like inquiries to officials not being promptly answered or premium adjustments not happening at the intended levels.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “What we’ve got to do is get on with the work and make it progress.”
Welch said the local discussion in Vermont will affect the national discussion, especially as he begins to compare notes with colleagues from other states.
“This is the beginning,” he said. “It is by no means the end.”
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