BARRE — A “March for Medicaid” drew more than 100 people to the Granite City on Saturday to protest threats to the national medical benefits program.
Organized by the Vermont Workers’ Center in Barre, the “Healthcare is a Human Right” campaign march began at noon at the First Presbyterian Church on Seminary Street and proceeded down Main Street to City Hall Park for a rally. Along the way, the marchers chanted, banged drums, played musical instruments and carried banners and placards.
Founded in 1998, the Vermont Workers’ Center is an organization of low-income and working people with active members across the state dedicated to socioeconomic issues that threaten benefits and programs for Vermonters.
The Healthcare is a Human Right campaign is fighting efforts by the Trump Administration to destabilize the Medicaid program by offering block grant funding to states that also have work requirements to qualify for benefits, as well as other eligibility hurdles that have led to thousands of Medicaid recipients losing benefits in Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas in the last year, according to Vermont Workers’ Center officials. One in three Vermonters rely on Medicaid and Medicaid-funded services in the state, they added.
According to Keith Brunner, one of the organizers of Saturday’s march, the campaign is also calling for the Vermont Legislature to revive Act 48, a successful 2011 campaign by the Vermont Workers’ Center and other groups for the first statewide universal, publicly funded health care system called Green Mountain Care. In 2014, former Gov. Peter Shumlin abandoned the plan, citing the taxes required of smaller businesses within the state to fund it.
Will Bennington, a farmer from Plainfield, and Amy Lester, of Adamant, were the masters of ceremonies at the rally and welcomed the many supporting nonprofit, union and interfaith groups supporting Medicaid benefit recipients.
“I’m marching today because I, like so many other farmers and farm workers in the state, work my butt off and cannot afford health care,” Bennington said. “If it were not for Medicaid, I would never go to the doctor or the dentist.”
Beth Clark, of Barre, said she and several relatives all had health care issues and had to pay for out-of-pocket expenses not covered by medical benefits. Likewise, Maurica Villines, of Springfield, said she was a single mother with two children that struggled to meet family medical expenses.
Lorri Demers, who is homeless and living at the Good Samaritan Haven shelter in Barre, said she had struggled for two months after moving to Barre to get Medicaid benefits to help cover the cost of quarterly checkups on her defibrillator for a heart condition.
“Without my Medicaid, I would not be able to have my defibrillator checked every three months, so that’s why I’m fighting for Medicaid,” she said.
Hannah Williams, of South Royalton, who works as a health care associate in Barre, said she had to work with patients that had trouble getting coverage for reproductive health care and mental health care services because they were not “prioritized” by health insurers.
“You and I are walking dollar signs to the people that profit from our current health care system and I for one refuse to accept that politicians and billionaires have the right to tell me that my life and the lives of the people I love aren’t worth the risk to their profits,” Williams said. “All of these reasons and so many more are why I’m marching for Medicaid.”
Attendees also heard from a diabetic who would not be able to afford her medication without Medicaid, a single mother working two jobs that did not provide health insurance coverage, a mental health care worker who said Medicaid coverage was essential for the patients he treated, and a seasonal migrant farm worker who was worried about being injured and not having health care coverage.
After the rally, participants were treated to a barbecue lunch provided by the Vermont Workers’ Center.