Healthcare Prognosis To Be Determined

Healthcare is always a hot political topic, with ongoing debates about the pros and cons of the “Affordable Care Act”, the debacle of Vermont Health Connect, increasing occurrences of various diseases, distinctions between rights and privileges, and rising costs of treatments and drugs – the latter of which may or may not function as effective medicine.

In Vermont, most of the public discourse seems to be centered on the problem of cost, and Medicaid spending in particular; Medicaid is responsible for the largest piece of the budget gap going into 2017. Approximately 1/3 of Vermonters are covered by Medicaid or otherwise subsidized. Expanded enrollments began after the ACA lowered the eligibility bar for Medicaid coverage, bringing more people into the public pool. State and federal dollars fund Medicaid, but federal matching contributions have been declining, which increases pressure on state budgets. More people having access to healthcare is a good thing in the long run, but major improvements are in order to ensure positive health outcomes and foster a sustainable pricing and payment system. Many ideas are floating around right now but the path forward is uncertain.

At a recent State House hearing about the Farm-to-School Program – established nine years ago to improve nutrition and food literacy in our public schools – we heard from young students, their teachers, administrators, farmers and health experts about how important good food is for growing minds and bodies. Poor nutrition negatively impacts the brain’s ability to process, retain and use information essential for developing knowledge and skills. It also contributes to rising rates of obesity and diabetes, among other conditions. The kids at the hearing often mentioned how they didn’t like vegetables until they had them prepared certain ways and learned how important they are – things they learned about at school. Getting good food from farms into school kitchens should be a primary objective of state government, but funding has been in decline and further budget cuts are expected.

The day after the hearing, I visited the doctor’s office for my first check-up in years. At the age of 37 I’m about halfway to the average US male life expectancy, so it’s probably a good time to start peeking under the hood every now and again. After giving me a mostly clean bill of health, the doc told me that the single most important (and easiest) thing we can all do to improve and maintain our health is to eat plenty of vegetables and other plant food. So, while your state and federal governments are still trying to change the healthcare system, keep eating your vegetables. They might be our only hope!

America has a choice to make regarding healthcare if we want to be healthy and not go bankrupt. Should the system be people-centric or profit-oriented? The choice is clear, right? You’d think so, but apparently it’s not. Where there is disease and unease, there is money to be made. And where there is the potential for great profit, there is the potential for undue social influence through government deregulation and high-level lobbying of elected officials and those contending for election. This helps to make America the only developed nation without some form of universal, affordable coverage available to all of its citizens. We also spend a larger share of GDP on healthcare and have worse outcomes; US stats for infant mortality, obesity, diabetes, chronic conditions, life expectancy and prescription drug consumption are among the worst. In many categories we are dead last. But we have the best healthcare practitioners and technology in the world, so what are we doing wrong? In order to truly reform the healthcare system for the benefit of all Americans, especially children, we need to decide once and for all if access to healthcare is a right or a privilege and reorient our priorities accordingly. I’m disappointed that we’re only just beginning to have that debate in earnest at the local and national levels, and that cost concerns can derail reform when billions and trillions are flushed into the sewers of Pentagon black budgets, corporate subsidies/loopholes/bailouts, and foreign interventions. Should the “invisible hand” and the primacy of profit dictate health policy or should We the People? You decide!

In other news, I traveled to Washington, DC recently to meet up with former Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich for the purpose of speaking with Senators and staffers about Vermont’s GE/GMO food labeling law, which goes into effect in July barring federal or judicial preemption. The major food and chemical manufacturers are vigorously attempting to subvert states’ rights to serve as laboratories of democracy and to demand full transparency and accountability in what is supposed to be an open market, and many influential politicians are ready to do their bidding. Our own Congressional delegation is standing firm in defense of Vermont’s democratic process and State’s interest, but they may be outnumbered. To make things even more interesting, there is a possibility that the matter could be resolved by the nation’s highest court, which was recently reduced by one member.

Finally, this week I will be reporting a bill out of the Agriculture Committee that will establish a Pollinator Protection Committee. Since pollinators are absolutely vital to our food supply and economy but have been in dramatic decline worldwide for the past decade, Vermont will develop a comprehensive plan to protect and strengthen pollinator populations from a synergy of threats that includes pesticides, parasites, viruses, and loss of habitat. The PPC will not require any state funding appropriations.

Keep in touch and contact me anytime at 802-558-3966 or tzagar@leg.state.vt.us.

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