Cummings: Insurance or health care?

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Kelly Cummings of Fletcher, who is a member of the Vermont Workers Center’s Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign.

You have got to ask yourself, do you want insurance or do you want health care? If you answered health care, well, beware the Fear Monger. According to the dictionary, the term “fear mongering” means the action of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a particular issue. This is a tactic that historically has been used again and again. Fear mongering. Insurance companies and their front groups like to serve it up cold for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make no mistake about it … they’re expecting you will swallow it down without question.

By now you might have seen the Vermonters for Health Care Freedom’s ads on television, the Internet or perhaps heard them on the radio. The group’s new ads trying to convince you that keeping the insurance company status quo is the right thing for you to do. Darcie Johnston, who heads up the group, has begun the group’s full onslaught of scare ad tactics. Her ads are loaded with all kinds of scary words and phrases like: “scheme,” “not fair,” “not right,”“state secret,” “they’re hiding something” and “they’re not giving us any reason to trust them.” They also mention that this is going to “cost you 5 billion dollars.” As if this is going to be a new cost to you. What they don’t tell you is Vermont is already spending 5 billion dollars on health care, with a good percentage of it going to health insurance companies and their profits rather than your actual health care. So, no facts … just those scary words, phrases and a magician’s sleight of hand.

Now, I must say in all fairness, because Vermonters for Health Care Freedom will not release the identity of their financial contributors, I do not know if they are a front group for the insurance companies or not. I, nor you, have any way of knowing if they’re being funded by the insurance companies, those “big bucks” brothers or just the average citizen pitching in their five dollars when they can. Ms. Johnston is not saying, but somebody is sure paying for all that airtime. Ultimately we will never know, unless she chooses to reveal it.

When insurance companies and their front groups use scare tactics they like to exploit some of the words we as Vermonters and Americans hold dear. Words like freedom. If you believe what the insurance companies and Vermonters for Health Care Freedom are saying, then you believe they want to give you the freedom to purchase your insurance from a free market-based insurance system so you have free choice and will be a freer Vermonter because of it. You will be so free that you will have the freedom to lose your insurance if you lose your job, to declare bankruptcy and lose your home if you can’t pay your medical bills, to remain in your marriage, even if your spouse beats you, so you and your children don’t lose your spouse’s insurance, to have inadequate health care or none at all … to get sick and die. Well … you get the picture.

Truth is insurance companies could care less about your freedom or your health. They just want your money.

Freedom. It’s worth thinking about it. And it’s time to end this fear thing right here and now. Don’t let the insurance companies and their front groups scare you out of the health care you need and deserve. Don’t let them take the very words we hold dear as a society and twist them into something that means nothing to you and everything to them.

True freedom takes courage. True freedom takes faith. It always has and it always will.

So beware the Fear Monger, everyone. Let’s stay the course and see universal single-payer health care safely to its completion.

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  • walter carpenter

    “Truth is insurance companies could care less about your freedom or your health. They just want your money.”

    How well I know what that means. As a patient it was a struggle to get the insurance company to part with their money to pay claims that I and my ex-employer at the time paid them every month to insure.

    Loved your essay, Kelly:)

  • Dan McCauliffe

    I strongly disagree with this opinion piece that paints those who raise concerns about Vermont’s single-payer health system as insurance industry sponsored “naysayers”. Many of my patients have similarly raised concerns about the proposed single payer system.

    It is foolish to brush off criticism that may identify potential pitfalls that lie ahead. For example, this article points out earlier criticism to ObamaCare that is becoming a reality:

    I would encourage an open debate on the issues rather than dismissing those who disagree with your views as naysayers, fear mongers, etc. We are far more likely to find better solutions for health care reform if he heed criticism from both sides of the aisle.

    • Bob Zeliff

      Mr. McCauliffe

      I too favor healthy, thought full debate. I have seen very little of it from those opposed to Green Mountain Care.

      I too see, exactly, what Ms Cummings outlines correctly. Darcy Johnston group only used fear and miss information…so much so, evan her unnamed sponsors have found a need to replace her with another.

      Bruce Lisman, while a bit smoother, is another case where big money is being spent to spread concern with partial information, that is spun to miss inform.

      Evan your reference, is really talking about the exchanges, which were put into the Affordable Care Act by the Insurance Lobby /Republicans. They love this as now the ACA /Government/ taxpayers will provide subsidizes that end up in the insurance companies pocket to insure all Amerians. This is a big increase in business for them. They love it. The day the ACA was passed the insurance companies stock went up.

      Here in Vermont, we are proposing the Vermont exchange will a relatively flat community rating, i.e. all vermonters get the same coverage at the same one is left out, every one is covered. Now the Vermont insurance lobby wants the “freedom” to opt out of the exchange. This just the code word for the insurance companies not be regulated, every policy holder will have to read and understand all the fine print. This will be very profitable for the insurance companies…very expensive or more likely result in very poor converge for those who are “free” to buy this.

      I would welcome you “naysayers” to bring some ideas how to improve our healthcare system. All I see is a lot of money being spent in public media to confuse and misinform people. Shame on those who do this.

      Vermonters deserve better. We can get this right.

  • Kelly Cummings

    Just a note. Since writing this Op-Ed, Vermonters for Health Care Freedom’s Executive Director, Darcie Johnston, was replaced with Jeff Wennberg.

  • Talk about scare tactics and nasty name calling! This essay clearly shows that the VWC, and its supporters, are just as guilty and intolerant. In their quest for “social justice”, and making others pay for what they deem as “rights”, they continue to vilify anyone with a different opinion.

  • Walter Carpenter

    “to remain in your marriage, even if your spouse beats you.”

    This goes on a lot more than you think. There are people are forced to stay in abusive relationships because of health insurance. I have known several and have listened to testimonies about this from others.

    “Many of my patients have similarly raised concerns about the proposed single-payer system.”

    Dr. McCauliffe, when I was seriously ill with an excessively life-threatening disease several years ago, I could only wish that Vermont had a single-payer system. If I were a patient of yours, I would be inquiring when, not if, it were coming, and how fast I could get on it. But many people are confused about these exchanges, bob had it right when he wrote in his above post that health insurance company stock rose with the aca. As for the naysayers, again, I think Bob, in his post, and Kelly in her editorial, have said it best here. The big money that is financing this fear and misinformation no doubt has a vested interest in keeping things exactly as they are for their personal profit at the expense of others.

  • Jerry Kilcourse

    Great letter Kelly. The “Vermonters for Health Care Freedom”should be for “single payer” as their name implies.

    Many of us would also like to who is bankrolling their TV and radio ads.

  • Dave Bellini

    I think there is misinformation and omitted information on both sides of the issue. But if you will excuse my analogy: the state has the “burden of proof.” The “naysayers” are not trying to sell a product. Status quo, awful though it may be, is a known, vs. a new health system that is largely an unknown in which even the architects cannot explain. The state should be more forthcoming about future plan details. I care less about who is funding VHCF than I do about the costs and the benefit levels of a future plan. Be leery of promises made by politicians, of either party.

    Remember “Challenges For Change?” A recent real life example of how our political leaders exaggerate and pretend that an outcome will be better than reality.

    Look at the sudden shift in how many beds will be built at a future state hospital. Federal money is at stake thus, the best interest of Vermonters gets defined differently.

    I attended a forum in Barre this past fall about the future of healthcare. Speakers were Robin Lunge and Anya Rader Wallack. I wanted to ask some questions but people attending were told to submit any questions in writing to a “moderator” who selected questions to be asked. No follow up questions allowed, no dialogue. Not a great way to build public trust.

    Now we learn, the $500 million that will be saved according to Dr. Hsiao, isn’t going to happen. There WILL be “savings”, but we have to define “savings” differently. “Savings” now means: cost increases. I’m looking for my Orwell novels.

    Some basic questions:

    What will the new healthcare system mean to my family? Is it better than what I have right now? How much will it cost me? What’s covered and what’s not covered?

  • walter carpenter

    “I care less about who is funding VHCF than I do about the costs and the benefit levels of a future plan. Be leery of promises made by politicians, of either party.”

    I agree on several points of your post. The questions you ask at the end of it will be answered as the Green Mountain Health Care Board does its work and the benefit plans of the exchanges fall into place. You also raised a valid point about Challenges for change, though I do not agree with the point in this context, for the simple reason that Challenges (A Douglas initiative) was not designed to change much of anything except to be a smokescreen for Douglas to cut programs he did not like.

    I do disagree about who is funding the VHCF. It should be known because of the potential by all this money coming in from somewhere being spent to try to tilt reform in their favor or keep the status quo of perpetually rising costs every year for less coverage while earning huge profits for themselves — all of which will affect you and your family in a negative way, if not now, then in the long run.

    I do agree with you about being leery of promises made by either party. That is where we come in to make these promises come to fruit. This health care reform, however, is not just a promise. It’s happening.

  • Kathy Callaghan

    Let’s just face the facts – everybody is funded by somebody. The GMC proponents are funded by taxpayers’ dollars, (either Federal or State or both), which are used to pay the salaries and benefits of Robin Lunge, Steve Kimbell, Mark Larsen, et al. To continue arguing over who is funding whom doesn’t make a lot of sense. In the world of politics, nobody’s hands are really clean, and purity does not exist.

    It’s time to give it up already, and turn the conversation to the actual problems inherent in essentially abolishing a free marketplace, replacing it with something no state has ever done before, and then hoping the replacement will work. There are some very significant questions that need answering by the GMC Board and staff, many of which have been raised in this blog, and which still remain unanswered. (Certainly GMC reads the Digger!).

    GMC proponents decry the “doubters” and “”naysayers”, but maybe these are just people who are frustrated with having their concerns ignored and their questions remain unanswered. In a virtual communication vacuum with the outside world, GMC continues staffing up (check last Sunday’s job ads), and ignoring the deep and relevant concerns of a significant portion of the Vermont population. GMC might find more acceptance if they began engaging in actual dialogue with Vermont taxpayers, who will have to live with whatever they fashion. This is truly no way to build an airline (or anything else for that matter).

    • Kathy & Dave:

      Well said.

      The proponents are not communicating with the “people” before the election because they know that TAXES will have to be raised to incredible levels to sustain this folly. That would be the political kiss of death. It is all part of their grand plan to provide health care for all with other people’s money.

      It is especially great to read in their feel good propaganda that there will be winners and losers when this is all done…all the while they continue to spout off about fairness and equality. What a complete evasion of the truth.

      Like Dave said above…answer our questions NOW…not after your hand is already in our pocket and our benefits have been reduced.

      • Doug Hoffer

        Taxes instead of premiums.
        Not taxes plus premiums.

        And BTW – How much have your premiums gone up in the last 20 years?

        • Craig Powers


          Yes, I do understand what you are saying but disagree with your tax and spend philosophy.

          What I see coming is high taxes designated for a minority of businesses and individuals/families that are above a certain income threshold. Please revisit the current property tax collection system, which puts the majority of the funding burden on higher income property owners. Your beloved progressive tax system in action. Please do not respond with the “fair share” argument for health care. Everyone is already paying their fair share for a long list of many other so called rights and programs. We do not need another one piled on.

          This new tax reality will not heavily impact a majority of Vermonters, who will pay the least, based on a cleverly designed income threshold that creates a huge voting block of people. That voting block will absolutely continue to support legislators that condone this because “what the heck” I ain’t payin’ for it. This will assure that those high tax payers will never have the chance to vote this out, because the numbers are clearly stacked against them politically. It really is quite brilliant…till the money runs out.

          So, if I already pay $14K in premiums for my family now, and the progressive health care income tax is $21,000, then how is that equitable for me? You have just increased my costs $7K, most likely reduced my benefits, increased my waiting times, given me no choice in the matter and keep telling me that this is equitable and fair? Are we living in the USA or the People’s Republic of Vermont?

          It really is misleading for organizations like VPIRG, VWC, et al…to state that this new system is fair when the funding burden will fall on a few, to AGAIN pay for the many. And AGAIN the few will have no vote or voice in the process.

          I know my premiums have increased over the years, and I am not happy about it either. Luckily I have found a way to pay for them (and my employees too) for now. There have been sacrifices made and least it was my choice.

  • Paula Schramm

    Yes, what we have now is “known”, and part of the known is that premiums and cost of health care is increasing each year at a truly unsustainable rate. So we must face the “unknown” , by taking a look at what others have done better and seeing how to make it work for the state of Vermont. The idea of “free market” insurance company competitive choice HAS been tried, and has NOT worked either.That has a lot to do with why we have by far the most expensive health care of industrialized countries, with worse health outcomes, and 50 million uninsured citizens.
    Kelly mentions one basic reason: for-profit insurance companies must be concerned primarily with their bottom line; the provision of health care often has to be sacrificed to meet the primary concern. Having adequate health care just does not fit the “consumer” model, for a multitude of reasons. We need to look at things in a whole new context, as every other industrialized country has been able to do, by making an ethical commitment to provide access to health care for every citizen, and THEN finding the best way to do it.

    “GMC might find more acceptance if they began engaging in actual dialogue with Vermont taxpayers, who will have to live with whatever they fashion.”

    I agree that the board could really use someone to keep Vermonters informed about where things are at, and to respond to & include concerns and questions.That was the intent, but are there people to carry it out ? A whole lot of public education about this health care reform needs to be happening !

    It is a work in progress, based on studies of programs that have actually worked in the real world. There are many unknowns, but the direction and the priorities are right. And, ultimately, we have a lot more say with our elected officials than we would with the board of directors of an insurance company !

  • don eggleston

    Hoffer said:

    “Taxes instead of premiums.
    Not taxes plus premiums.”

    No, in some cases it will be taxes plus premiums. There are businesses in Vermont that have interstate, unionized workforces and those businesses have contracts to pay for employee health care. They cannot get out of those contracts just because “go-it-alone” Vermont enacts single payer. Those employers will pay both the premium and the tax.

    Unless . . . Hoffer is advocating that those business just ignore their union contracts . . .

  • Al Walskey

    It has been my experience that “Vermonters for Health Care Freedom” are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their deceptive, misleading ads airing on WCAX TV is reminiscent of the “Harry and Louise” ads used to kill the attempts of the Clinton Administration to save lives through health care reform just as Medicare has since it became law.

    In March of 2011 VFHC held a meeting at the statehouse in conference room 10 where they revealed their true intentions. Senator Randy Brock presided over the proceedings in which Hitler, Stalin, communists, socialists, Pol Pot, and brown shirts were used to demean and denigrate the proponents of healthcare reform. So much for mutual respect. The prevailing view expressed over and over is that “Health care is a personal responsibility” Bucko! The prevailing wisdom is that people who don’t take good care of themselves deserve to get sick and shouldn’t stick the taxpayer with the bill. They, however, fail to defend the consumer without healthcare who ends up inadvertently paying for the healthcare of others when (s)he buys a product/service from an employer who offers healthcare as a benefit. The price paid includes the cost of that FREE healthcare.

    Not one whit of compassion or concern was ever expressed for the 45,000 Americans who die each year because they can’t afford health care – 60 are Vermonters. The Freedom folks have demonstrated once again by their conduct that there is nothing so dependable as man’s inhumanity to man.

    As a Veteran I find it deplorable to know that we Americans kill more of our fellow Americans through “benign neglect” than terrorists kill by design. As to cost. We always have an infinite supply of money for WAR! No serious objections prevent this enormous financial burden from being heaped on the backs of the taxpayer. Our humanity takes a back seat to savage capitalism where money is King – more important than lives. Perhaps this is why we have become known as the great Satan.