On March 1, 2023

Legislators deserve publicly funded health care coverage; so do all Vermonters

Dear Editor,

The Vermont Senate is discussing a bill, S.39, that would make state legislators eligible for the state employees’ benefit plan at no cost to the legislators. It would also provide legislators with childcare reimbursement and pay for out-of-session work that is not currently compensated.  

The bill’s goal is to make serving in the legislature more attractive to Vermonters with young children, those with low incomes, and/or those without a source of health coverage. That makes sense. We would all benefit from having the most diverse legislature possible.  And it’s true that legislators work hard and put in long hours during the 4 months they serve in the legislature and that they work in an unpaid capacity for the rest of the year. Their salaries are relatively low, they receive no help with childcare, and they must count on getting health coverage through other sources, if that is available to them.

So, I have no objection to providing legislators with publicly funded comprehensive health care coverage for themselves and their families. But I can’t for the life of me understand why those benefits shouldn’t extend to all Vermonters.

I say so having watched the Senate Government Operations committee hearing this week at which several legislators testified as to why health coverage should be offered to them, free of charge, and why this bill should move forward.  The reasons offered apply to most Vermonters, not just legislators.  People are  having to stay in jobs they don’t like or decline jobs they do want based on whether the jobs did or did not offer health care coverage.

They outlined many of the reasons why legislators decided to serve only because they were able to secure health care in some other way, like a spouse who has good health insurance through their job, or from the employer for whom they worked when the legislature was not in session. Again, these are problems many Vermonters deal with on a continuing basis.  In fact, 44% of all Vermonters with health insurance under the age of 65 are under-insured–a major illness would lead to financial bankruptcy.  Many people in this position avoid care, leading to worsening health and even premature death. ​

The final irony of S39 is that it is being swiftly moved along in the legislative process, unlike legislation that would apply to all Vermonters. Another bill, H.156, that would implement publicly funded health care for all Vermonters starting with primary care, is being completely ignored by health care leadership. 

And this bill has 59 legislative sponsors.  Backers of this bill were told “we don’t have time to take it up” among a whole host of other excuses.

Yet it appears they have time to work on legislation to extend publicly funded health care to themselves. And if S39 passes the legislators would all be eligible for cost-free health care by January 2024.

Too bad the same cannot be said for the rest of Vermonters.  

Deb Richter, Montpelier

Editor’s note: Deb Richter is a practicing family physician and addiction medicine specialist.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

A public education Vermonters support and value

May 22, 2024
By Margaret MacLean Editor’s note: Margaret MacLean, from Peacham, has been an educator for 50 years, working as a teacher, school principal and consultant both in Vermont, the U.S. and internationally. Over the past 14 years Vermont has enacted three sweeping school district consolidation laws. The overarching goals of Act 153, Act 156, and Act…

Vermont’s lost submarine memorial

May 22, 2024
Dear Editor, At the Veteran Administration (VA) in White River Jct, VT, there is a distinct memorial dedicated to the Submarine USS Flier (SS 250) lost during World War II.  Ever mindful of our lost shipmates, friends and family that have served in the submarine service of our country, the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc. (USSVI)…

H.121 poses significant risk to Vermont’s business community

May 22, 2024
Dear Editor, As the CEO of the Vermont Country Store (VCS), I strongly support consumer privacy as does the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and many peer companies in the state. I wholeheartedly endorse the Connecticut law that was the foundation of H.121. However, as passed it is my hope that Governor Scott will veto H.121.…

Vermont’s outsize appetite for taxes

May 22, 2024
Dear Editor, Most Vermont taxpayers have just experienced a period of tax focus, specifically property taxes to support our public schools. Some communities are still going through the valuable public debate about property taxes and, more generally, the overall tax burden and trying to evaluate that relative to what we receive for our tax dollars.…