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Every Vermonter has, at some point in their life, experienced the burdensome and costly challenges of navigating our health care system. We have all either personally faced sickness or injury, or have supported a loved one through a time of illness.

There is no doubt that our healthcare system is flawed. We spend far more money on healthcare than any industrialized country in the world, and our outcomes are far worse than most. Out-of-pocket costs are way too high, and millions of Americans have no healthcare coverage at all.

In Congress, I will be a champion for the health and wellness of Vermonters. I will fight to support the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and build the healthcare workforce we need to ensure every Vermonter is cared for, especially in our rural communities.

While I support Medicare for All as a long-term fix to the structural failures of our healthcare system, I’m most focused on immediate, pragmatic steps to meet the needs of Vermonters. The fact is, if Republicans take the House of Representatives this fall, the topic of discussion in Washington next year won’t be Medicare for All – it will be Medicare for none.

There is a persistent risk that certain protections and benefits in the ACA may be stripped away if Republicans take the U.S. House in November. That’s why, in Congress, first and foremost, I will fight to protect the ACA, which covers 26,000 Vermonters – including those living with chronic illnesses and preexisting conditions.

I’ll also get to work making healthcare more affordable and accessible to all Vermonters. That includes expanding Medicare and Medicaid and lowering the cost of life-saving prescription drugs.

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I will co-sponsor legislation authorizing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices. I will work to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing, and vision. I will respond to the huge demand for mental health care, ensuring we invest in it like we do physical health care. I will support incentives for Medicaid expansion in all 50 states. Finally, I will push to expand telehealth access and insurance coverage by private and public insurers.

But protection of the ACA and expansion of Medicare and Medicaid is not enough. Our healthcare workforce needs to be strengthened and expanded to respond to the pressing needs of our aging state. Vermont Talent Pipeline forecasts that in the healthcare sector alone there will be more than 6,000 jobs to fill in Vermont – mostly positions for Registered Nurses – by the end of next year. This is serious.

We need a trained and skilled workforce to meet the needs of Vermont families and communities, and we shouldn’t ask workers to pick up the bill. I believe federal funding should cover up to two years of education and training, paving the way for Vermonters to enroll in certificate or degree programs, such as EMT, CNA, LNA or RN programs at our tech schools, community colleges, and state colleges. I would work to restart a $2 billion grant program to support partnerships between our state college system and employers for on-the-job training. Finally, I would push for student loan forgiveness for degrees and certificates in high-demand sectors, including health care.

In a nation as wealthy as ours, a trip to the hospital shouldn’t end in a lifetime of medical debt. We need swift, sensible actions, with an eye towards long-term structural reform.

Vermonters and all Americans deserve better, more affordable healthcare, and a skilled and caring workforce to deliver it.

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray is seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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