Montpelier, VT– Over three hundred Vermonters converged at the Statehouse on January 5th to deliver more than four thousand petition signatures to lawmakers Shap Smith, John Campbell, Claire Ayer and Mark Larson. The petition demands that Vermont leads the nation in the adoption of universal healthcare. The petition also builds on last year’s passage of Act 128 the “Universal Access To Healthcare Act,” which mandates that Vermont create a healthcare system which meets the human rights principles of universality, equity, accountability, transparency, participation and healthcare as a public good. The rally also comes in anticipation of the release of the state mandated universal healthcare system options, designed by Dr. William Hsiao, expected on January 19th of this year.
The Cedar Creek room was packed with Healthcare Is a Human Right supporters from all across the state in red shirts carrying signs, along with many legislators on the first day back in the Statehouse.Mari Cordes of the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals Union at Fletcher Allen, spoke about her personal experiences seeing the healthcare crisis in Vermont, “As a nurse, I can report first hand that the current system is not working. We know that people are suffering and dying needlessly. Tens of thousands of Vermonters lack access to healthcare and we know people who have health insurance are suffering because they cannot afford the increasing costs of premiums, deductibles and copayments,” said Cordes. “And we know as a result many Vermonters are not getting the care they need when they need it because they can’t afford it.”
For video coverage of the speeches, click here.
All of the legislators who spoke at the rally expressed their commitment to passing legislation this year in order to create a healthcare system that meets the human rights standards adopted in Act 128. Speaker of the House Representative Shap Smith (D-Morrisville), pledged to push for passing universal healthcare legislation this year. The new co-chairs of the Healthcare Committee,Senator Claire Ayer (D-Addison County) and Representative Mark Larson (D-Burlington) both stated their support for the campaign and for passing legislation this session. “It’s a disgrace that we’re the only industrialized nation without universal health care,” said Senator Ayer. Representative Larson reiterated that passing a universal healthcare bill this session is a top priority, “We are going to give this our most and work very hard to get something done this year.”
The rally was followed by the People’s Movement Assembly to address the many critical issues facing working and low-income families, and to build a new people’s movement in Vermont. Group after group echoed the need to come together across struggles, both in Vermont and nationally. “To truly have safe and healthy communities we need to build a broad and unified movement that directly confronts systems of oppression,” said Sheila Linton of the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign and Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity. Brendan O’Neill from the Vermont Farmworker Solidarity Project agreed, “Only by working together will we be able to build movements capable of taking back these resources that corporations drain from our communities and rebuild our food, healthcare and educational systems.”
A variety of groups from across the state participated in the People’s Movement Assembly, including the Vermont Center for Independent Living, Rural Vermont, the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals Union, Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, Vermont Early Educators United, and the People’s University for Learning and Liberation (a project of the Vermont Workers’ Center).
The rally and People’s Movement Assembly today builds on the momentum of last year’s Healthcare Is a Human Right rally on May 1st which attracted record numbers of Vermonters to the Statehouse to express their experiences with a broken healthcare system and support the creation of a healthcare system that meets human rights standards. In 2010, the Healthcare Is A Human Right campaign also held People’s Forums all across the state where Vermonters engaged with over 130 legislators and legislative candidates to let the policy makers know that Vermonters’ voices should be heard over that of insurance and drug companies.
As of September 2010, an estimated 59,000 Vermonters are still without any health insurance. Many thousands more are under-insured. During the last legislative session people from all across the state contacted their legislators as part of the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign to voice their concern that the current crisis in access to healthcare needs bolder comprehensive change. The result was the passage of S. 88 (which became Act 128) the "Universal Access To Healthcare Act," which affirmed Vermont’s commitment to adopting a healthcare system which meets human rights principles of universality, equity, accountability, transparency and participation. S. 88 also called for the state to hire a consultant to design three healthcare plans for Vermont, which all meet human rights principles. The state hired Dr. Hsiao, a Harvard economics professor who also designed the Taiwanese single-payer healthcare system. The three plans Dr. Hsiao has been developing are expected to be presented to the people of the Vermont and the state legislature January 19th, 2011.
The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries are expected to pour excessive amounts of money into the state in advertising and “astroturf” groups in an attempt to hold back the groundswell of support for real change in our healthcare system that Vermonters are demanding from their elected officials. “We know that we have a battle before us, but we also know that the people of Vermont have demonstrated time and time again that our system is broken and that we all have a human right to healthcare,” said Franzen. “While we might not have the billions of dollars that the insurance and drug companies have, when the people of Vermont come together they have more say than the corporations in the future of our state.”