Vermont House Passes Universal Health Care Bill


The Vermont House of Representatives passed H.202, a “Road Map to a Universal and Unified Health System” on March 24, 2011. The bill, adapting a proposal by Governor Shumlin, will now move to the Senate.

On the anniversary of the market-based federal health reform law, Vermont’s bill outlines the path to a different health system, based on the principles of universality and equity. It proposes to treat health care as a public good, rather than a commodity sold by insurance companies for private gains.

The bill’s passage is a victory for the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign, which – after years of grassroots organizing – was successful not only in making serious health care reform politically possible, and thus move beyond the market-based federal effort, but also in inserting key human rights principles into statutory language. The campaign will continue advocating for important improvements to the bill, and organizers are optimistic that the final legislation will constitute a big step towards realizing the human right to health care in Vermont. Please see their press release below.

The bill as passed by the House can be read and downloaded here.

Press release: Vermont Workers’ Center – Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign

Vermont Takes Step Towards Making Healthcare a Human Right

Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign welcomes passage of universal healthcare bill (H. 202) by Vermont House

Montpelier, VT — Statehouse — On Wednesday, March 23, members of the grassroots Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign cheered on as the Vermont House of Representatives voted 92 – 49 to pass the universal healthcare bill, H.202.  The House bill passed as a result of thousands of Vermonters speaking out and demanding that healthcare be treated as a human right and provided as a public good. 

“This bill puts Vermont on a path to a system in which every Vermonter can get the healthcare they need when they need it, and the financing of that system is shared equitably by all.  This is a huge step forward,” says Peg Franzen, President of the Vermont Workers’ Center.

The Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign still hopes to strengthen the bill in the Senate based on its human rights principles of universality, equity, accountability, transparency and participation. 

“This bill is a road map and it gets Vermont started down that road.  We are fighting hard to have human rights principles be the guidelines for this bill, because we must have a system that works for everyone,” says Franzen. “We’re asking the Senate to specify that Green Mountain Care will be financed equitably, which means that people and businesses should contribute based on their ability to pay. We’re also demanding that the new system gets rid of the middlemen – private insurance companies – which are in the business of making money on our backs and denying us access to care.” 

In 2008, the Vermont Workers’ Center launched the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign to change what is politically possible in healthcare reform.  The Campaign has done this by uniting Vermonters across the state who struggle to get the healthcare they need, and who believe healthcare is a public good.


Media coverage of the passage of H.202 in the House:

In the Burlington Free Press, including a focus on the president of the Workers’ Center:

Peg Franzen sat through weeks of deliberations in the crowded House Health Care committee room, then stayed at the Statehouse until after midnight Wednesday to hear every minute of the House debate on the bill. The 71-year-old Montpelier resident is president of the Vermont Workers Center, an organization that sponsored a campaign to establish health care as a human right.

She became convinced, after listening people recount health insurance nightmares, that the state has a health care crisis — “a crisis we can’t let continue.”

“We are pretty excited,” she said because the bill recognizes health care as a public good and sets out a plan to provide universal coverage. “It isn’t everything we want,” Franzen said listing concerns about the upfront costs Vermonters might still be asked to pay for care. “We’ve heard that actually prevents people from going to doctors in a timely manner.” Also, Franzen noted, “We are concerned it isn’t going to happen quickly.” Many of the changes won’t be implemented until at least 2014.

Franzen acknowledged the bill’s complexity, so she said she understood why lawmakers had dozens of questions that extended the House session until after midnight Wednesday and through much of Thursday. “Last night it was really amazing — the civility,” Franzen said. “I think that really has to be applauded.”

In the Boston Globe: MONTPELIER, Vt.—Every Vermonter could sign up for state-financed health insurance under a bill passed by the House on Thursday that would put the state on a path to a single-payer health care system by the middle of this decade.

"This bill takes our state one step closer to a system that ensures that all Vermonters have access to the care they deserve and contains costs," House Speaker Shap Smith said shortly after the House passed the bill 92-49.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass, but with some possible changes.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who made single-payer health care a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign last year, also praised the legislation. He said it would make Vermont "the first state in the country to make the first substantive step to deliver a health care system where health care will be a right and not a privilege, where health care will follow the individual, not be a requirement of the employer, and where we’ll have an affordable system that contains costs." […]


An editorial in the Bratteboro Reformer, published on March 26, 2011.

The little state that could … and should

On Thursday, the Vermont House of Representatives voted in favor of establishing a single-payer health care system in the Green Mountain State.

If the Senate approves it and the governor signs off on it — which they probably will — Vermont will lead the nation in providing a system that could go a long way to solving many of the nation’s health care system woes.

[…] Of course, there is strong opposition to switching to single payer, not the least of which comes from Ethan Allen Institute, which bills itself as a free-market think tank. John McClaughry, President of the institute, contends that advocates for a single-payer system rely on three arguments — that health care is a human right and that there is evident dissatisfaction with the operation and financing current system. The third reason, he stated, "is political and rarely stated." "It will put the government in control of all employers, medical providers, insurers (if any), and patients [… ]."

While we don’t agree that single-payer advocates subscribe to his third argument, we do believe that the first two are too true to be denied.

Opponents say they don’t want the government running our health care system.

The truth: Other universal health care systems are not controlled by bureaucrats but instead by a public trust.

In the U.S., the system is run by insurance companies, who preapprove service, a nightmare for many of us who need care.

(More than half the family bankruptcies in the United States are attributable to medical expenses. Seventy-five percent of those bankruptcies were filed by people with health insurance.)

Death rates in for-profit hospitals are higher than in nonprofits, according to a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which concluded the reason is for-profit hospitals must cut corners "in order to achieve a profit margin for investors, as well as to pay high salaries for administrators."

[…] Then there are the reactionaries who believe single-payer health care is just a code phrase for "death panels" in which bureaucrats ration services and decide who is most deserving of health care.

The Reformer does believe care is already rationed in the United States, but it’s based on an ability to pay.

According to a study from Statistics Canada, "Income inequality is strongly associated with mortality in the United States …."

We’ll interpret that for you: If you’re poor, you are more likely to die young than if you are well off.

The barefaced truth is the United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have a tax-supported health care system. And no one can argue that we have the most expensive health care system on the planet.

[…] All this information is the reason the Reformer believes some sort of single-payer health care system should be put in place in the United States.

We hope Vermont can become a guiding light to the rest of the nation and prove that universal health care is the solution to many of the ills that ail our system today.


The Politics of Health Care

Watch a clip with coverage on WCAX here. The piece, aired on March 30, features the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign and a newly formed opposition group. Here is the beginning of the clip: 

Peg Franzen is at the Vermont Statehouse every day pushing for a single-payer health care bill. "You have to keep working and keep educating people," she said.

From committee rooms to the cafeteria, Franzen is committed– working for the group Health Care is a Human Right. The group relies on volunteers to staff the Statehouse and lobby lawmakers.

"This is such a moment in history for Vermont," Franzen said. "This is something we have to do because the system we have is not sustainable and we can’t stay with the status quo."