Editorial: Vt. can be a model for civil health care debate (Burlington Free Press)

Sen. Bernie Sanders has scheduled three town hall meetings on health care reform this month, two of them on Saturday in Arlington and Rutland. This is another chance for Vermonters to show the rest of the nation how democracy works in a civilized society.

Members of Congress around the country are using their August break to hold town hall meetings to get information out and answer questions about the ongoing efforts at fixing this nation's health care system.

In some parts of the country, the meetings have been dominated by hostile crowds shouting down Senators and representatives. The protestors high-pitched rhetoric and over-the-top accusations about socialism and death panels are drowning out serious debate about this critical issue.

But in Vermont, we know how to do town meetings. Maybe the vitriol comes a little less easier when we know we are standing up in front of our neighbors with whom we live and work every day.

The important thing to remember is that health care reform is a work in progress. These town meetings are another chance to ask questions and raise concerns -- in other words, be engaged in an issue with huge consequences for us all.

The uneasiness that confronts the idea of health care reform is a strong testament to the fact that the system is broken. Many of us are scared to death of losing what little access we have or facing even higher bills.

When you feel like you have too little of something, you hang on to it for dear life. That's where much of America stands with health care.

We worry about expanding care to those who lack insurance now because we fear that will mean less health care for us or more cost to us, forgetting that the uninsured is already costing us plenty and limiting what care we can afford.

We worry about the "public option" replacing the insurance we get now from our employers, forgetting that many small businesses -- the vast majority of employers in our state -- cannot afford to provide insurance for their workers.

We worry about reform leading to "rationed care," forgetting that health care is already rationed based on the calculations of insurance companies or on our ability to pay.

We worry about "socialized" medicine, forgetting that opponents of Medicare railed against the government plan for seniors as the first step toward socialism that would destroy freedom in this country. Now the question is about how to save Medicare.

With so much at stake, health care reform calls for vigorous public debate. Our representatives in Washington from the president on down must answer the difficult questions and addressed even the most far-fetched fears. None of this will be accomplished unless the exchange remains civil. Vermonters know that it's not always the loudest voices that get heard.