MONTPELIER – The Vermont Medical Society is renewing the call for background checks for firearm purchases and an excise tax on sugar-sweetened drinks as part of its priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
During its recent annual meeting – the 202nd for the organization – the Vermont Medial Society adopted resolutions that touch on issues that were debated during the last legislative session, in the hope they might receive a second look one day in the future.
“There are a number of opportunities and challenges facing Vermont’s health care system during this time of great transition,” said James Hebert, M.D., the newly elected president of the Vermont Medical Society, which represents 2,000 physicians in the state.
“By passing these resolutions, our members seek to impact health care public policy in our state, with our priorities being improving Vermonters’ health and protecting access to quality health care,” Hebert continued.
The resolutions touch on a pair of issues that were debated and received little traction during the last legislative session, such as a call for background checks for all firearm sales, including the sale of firearms at gun shows, over the Internet, in classified ads and private sales.
The issue drew passionate debate when hundreds of people filled the State House hearing a on the subject in February, with Gun Owners of Vermont arguing against new background check legislation and members of Gun Sense Vermont speaking in support of stricter background check laws.
In the end, lawmakers approved a bill later signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin that did not address background checks but made it a state crime for a felon to possess a firearm, something that was already illegal under federal law.
Paul Harrington, executive vice-president of the Vermont Medical Society, acknowledges the prospects of lawmakers taking action on gun control – or an excise tax on sugary drinks – this session is slim.
“Going into an election, there might not be the appetite to take them (the issues) up, especially since there was action this past spring,” Harrington said. “We will be ready to support these positions when and if the legislature takes them up.”
Like the background checks, the 2-cent-an-ounce excise tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks – intended to reduce consumption and, ultimately, obesity – met strong resistance from the beverage industry, which spent more than $500,000 to defeat the proposal.
The Vermont Medical Society adopted two other resolutions, related to Medicare reimbursement and to physician licensing. The first calls for the all-payer waiver the state will seek from the federal government to not result in lower Medicare reimbursement rates.
The second resolution calls for Vermont to enter into an interstate compact governing physician licensing. The resolution would not do away with state licensing, but is an effort to recognize the interstate nature of today’s medical providers, Harrington said.
“State licensing laws, in many ways, pre-date information technology and the ability of a patient to see a doctor in another state or anywhere in the world,” Harrington said.
So far, 12 other states have approved legislation to join the interstate compact.