'Rally for Medicaid' takes aim at OneCare Vermont

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Recipients and supporters of Medicaid protested the privatization of Vermont's health care system on Saturday afternoon.

The "Rally for Medicaid" demonstrations took place at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington and on the Dartmouth Green in Hanover, New Hampshire. They were hosted by Vermont Workers’ Center.

The group of protesters chanted against OneCare Vermont, who they’re accusing of failing to invest the $21 million of public money they received into a public universal health care system.

"Instead of taking the universal health care system and implementing that, they've moved in the direction of privatization and OneCare is just an example of that, of putting our taxpayer money, and particularly concerning Medicaid money, into this private system instead of investing in a universal health care system,” said Michelle O’Donnell of Vermont Workers’ Center.

Protesters say the money should have been spent on direct care and wage increases. For many protesters, the rally wasn’t just political, but also personal. Volney Gordon says he battled liver cancer for five years and had to rely on Medicaid. Gordon says he spent those five years fighting for his life and for financial help.

“I had to jump around and take advantage of loopholes in the system to get the care that I needed,” Gordon told WCAX News.

Gordon says he sought care in Vermont, New York and Connecticut, and was sometimes dropped from his insurance.

“I work freelance so every once and a while, I would make a little too much money so then my health insurance would be cut off and then I had to spend a month and change trying to get the insurance back,” he said.

Other protesters who are also Medicaid recipients shared similar stories.

"Because of the income limits for Medicaid, I have to work fewer hours or worry about making too much money and not be able to afford my healthcare if I go over the limit,” said one protester.

Another protester said the 20% patient copay for her father’s medical treatment is $100,000 a year. They say struggling to afford health care is no way for someone to live or fight to live.

“And that's not right. If hospitals are there, they should be able to fulfill your needs especially if they're using tax dollars to fund their operations,” said Gordon.

WCAX also reached out to OneCare for their response.

CEO Vicki Loner says “OneCare supports Vermonters’ access to high quality care, while controlling the growth of health care costs, by working with health care providers across the state. Health care costs too much and in order to reduce the burden on Vermonters and providers we must deliver care in a smarter, better organized way. Health care providers in Vermont are working together with the state to change the way care is delivered and that work needs to happen regardless of the payer system.”

OneCare confirmed with WCAX that they received $21 million from state and federal funding from 2017-2019. They say the money was used to ‘improve health systems, direct care, and the health of Medicaid beneficiaries.’ They say more than half of the funding is from a category of funding that cannot be used to pay for Medicaid-covered health services but is available for supporting health and health systems improvements.

OneCare also told WCAX they are currently seeking 501 (c)(3) status from the federal government.