BURLINGTON — Five candidates for state Senate faced-off in a forum Monday evening in the Channel 17 studios, and voters got to hear distinctly different plans for Vermont from both the left and right.
One fresh face was independent candidate Louis Meyers. He’s a doctor who says he is running for office because there are no physicians currently in the Legislature. He repeatedly stressed that the state is moving towards an “all-payer” health care model that will need guidance from people on the inside.
Another new face was Libertarian Party candidate Loyal Ploof. He laid out details of his party’s platform by calling to abolish the income tax and limit government involvement in individuals’ lives. He also spoke in favor of defending the Second Amendment.
Touting a similar message was Republican Dana Maxfield, who took a conservative approach on issues such as the economy, deregulation, Second Amendment and personal liberties.
The incumbents at the table were Democrat Michael Sirotkin and Democrat/Progressive Chris Pearson. The two spoke in favor of raising the minimum wage, requiring paid-leave for workers, passing universal health care and protecting the environment.
On the issue of health care, Pearson and Sirotkin generally favored a more centralized and socialized system, whereas Ploof and Maxfield wanted less government involvement, more choice, and fewer mandates.
“We need more options and that should bring the price down,” Ploof said. “I have a friend of mine who lives in another state, he’s got the greatest insurance, chiropractic, everything. He chose his insurance, The government didn’t say, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta have insurance and this is your insurance.’”
Meyers and Sirotkin both were critical of the powerful position that UVM Medical Center has the overall health services in the state. Sirotkin noted pay disparity between UVM and independent doctors.
“We do have to right-size the players,” he said. “I’m on the Finance Committee and one of the things we’ve learned is … there are two sets of reimbursement rates from Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP. One is for the medical center hospital and the other is for everybody else.”
Meyers explained why all-payer model may not be a great idea. This would entail health care providers getting an annual lump-sum of money, instead of getting paid through the traditional “fee for service” approach. The hope is that doctors would be incentivized to promote preventive care and keep patients out of the hospital as much as possible. Meyers said this concept can work small scale, but not so much big scale.
“It’s going to be an all-encompassing plan that’s going to affect everyone in this state,” he said. “As the national studies are starting to come out, they are not favorable to this kind of plan. “Two studies recently in the New England Journal [of Medicine] suggests that these are at best break-even and at worst can cost a tremendous amount of money. There are other much simpler options that we could have gone to and perhaps still could.”
On gun rights, Ploof and Maxfield criticized S.55, the state’s new gun law that limits magazine capacity, expands background checks to private sales, raises the gun purchase age, and more. Meyers, Pearson, and Sirotkin were all either involved in its passage or generally supportive.
Pearson praised the portion of the law that gives increased leverage to law enforcement to act if an individual is showing aggression that might indicate a shooting is about to occur.
“Prior to that law, if you had a neighbor who was being very vocal about frustration with the school or maybe even on Front Porch Forum, saying how terrible the school was, and then you saw them loading firearms into their truck the next day through your front window, there was nothing you could do because those were legally possessed,” Pearson said. “Now you have the ability … to call law enforcement and they can intervene.”
Maxfield, who said his son has just started sixth grade, did not believe that the law does anything to make his child safer in school
“I think if we were serious about trying to protect the children as opposed to just limit firearms, which seems to be what the real motive behind S.55 was,” he said, “[I think we would ask] what can we do at the school? What can we do with education involving firearms? What can we do with mental health?”
All the candidates generally agreed that small businesses need an easier way to grow in Vermont. Sirotkin praised an effort by Pearson this last session to streamline the start-up process with the state.
“90 percent of our businesses in the state of Vermont have 20 or fewer employees,” he said. “We need to focus on helping those businesses, and Senator Pearson put a bill forward this year where we are gonna have one-stop shopping for small businesses to incorporate, to get started.”