Universal Healthcare in America: Vermont at the Crossroads

Demonstrators in Vermont rally for healthcare reform

Demonstrators in Vermont rally for healthcare reform

After this year’s midterm elections, many are revisiting an issue that rallied so many Vermonters together in previous election cycles: single-payer healthcare. Green Mountain Care, established by Bill H.202 in 2011 as the first single-payer public health care option in the United States, has received criticism due primarily to problems with the program’s website. But proponents argue that the benefits of Green Mountain Care far outweigh the technical problems of it’s implementation.

For over a decade, the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, has been organizing Vermonters in support of a single-payer option for over a decade. In 2008, the VWC launched the Health Care is a Human Right Campaign which played an important role in maintaining popular pressure on the state legislature to adopt Act 128. In spite of the successful drive to enact single-payer legislation, legislators are divided over how to finance single-payer. In January, 2014, Governor Shumlin will be presenting his proposal for how to effectively implement the program. Shumlin, who won his first election in part due to his outspoken support for single-payer health care, is now appearing skittish as anti-single-payer after Republican gained seats in the legislature.

In spite of the elections, members and community allies of the Vermont Workers Center are hoping to revive Vermont’s single-payer campaign supporters. On Saturday, November 22, VWC activists and allies began a new door-to-door canvassing effort in spite of below freezing temperatures to “hold legislators accountable to their promises” and “see single-payer over the finish line”. Al Walskey, a leading member of the VWC and Vietnam Veteran who has endured a lifetime of health issues related to his wartime service, has remained a stalwart of the Health Care is a Human Right Campaign in Franklin County – proof that single-payer has unlikely allies in even remote parts of the state typically regarded as “conservative”. Walskey, who also suffers from serious visual impairment, says “I’m still doing everything I can” to remain active in the campaign. In spite of his challenges, Walskey believes that “the people of Vermont haven’t changed their mind about healthcare” but have “lost their faith in some of those who were charged with its implementation”.

As the legislature grows nearer to the date for providing financing options, many supporters are concerned that the issue will be exploited for political reasons – especially regarding plans to finance the full-implementation of the single-payer program. VWC activists are adamant that the most equitable way to meet funding requirements is to apply progressive taxation to ensure that the wealthiest Vermonters are “paying their fair share”. A progressive tax plan for Vermont’s single-payer system is being presented as an alternative to ObamaCare, which requires people who make $50,000 per year to pay the same as those who make $5 Million per year. As medical expenses are widely known to be one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the US, VWC policy documents make the case that a progressive tax will actually save the overwhelming majority of Vermonters money by eliminating insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

Many of the Republican criticisms of ObamaCare are now shared by many of Obama’s former liberal supporters but as those familiar with the legislation are quick to point out, there are stark differences between Vermont’s Green Mountain Care and Obama’s Affordable Care Act. This fact is something single-payer supporters within both parties are keen to highlight. Additionally, as out-of-state money continues to flood Vermont elections, even Vermont’s conservatives are becoming increasingly worried that the healthcare issue is becoming a tool for the extreme right elements within the Republican Party to foster sympathy for corporate-controlled Tea Party politics in Vermont which oppose taxation as a matter of principle.