On April 26, Vermont's Senate passed, by a majority of 21 to 9, a universal health care bill that would ultimately provide publicly financed health care to all residents. Since the House already approved a version of this bill, which originated in Governor Shumlin's office back in February, it is almost certain that Vermont will become the first state in the country to start the process of creating a publicly financed, single-payer health care system.
Single-payer health care became politically feasible in Vermont around the same time it was sidelined and blocked in the federal health reform effort. Many attribute this to the creative and unwavering Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign, a diverse grassroots movement built by the Vermont Workers' Center. By engaging many thousands of ordinary Vermonters in claiming their right to health care, the campaign raised the voices of the people against corporate interests profiting from the market-based health insurance system.
Yet the struggle is far from over. The legislative negotiations have shown just how much people-power it will take to prevail over the ongoing bullying from big business and insurance industry lobbyists set on cutting deals. Led by Vermont's eerily powerful largest corporate employer, IBM, and incentivized by the deep-pocketed insurance industry, lobbyists mounted a series of attacks to stall and derail universal health care reform. Human rights supporters' protests at the Vermont Statehouse managed to fend off many industry demands, yet the bill did get watered down in the process.
There is still time for improvements: as the Senate and House passed different versions of the bill, advocates have a brief opportunity for strengthening its provisions when the two chambers meet to reconcile the differences. Throughout the legislative process, supporters of the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign have asked legislators — often successfully — to improve the bill's compatibility with key human rights principles, such as universality, equity, and accountability. The campaign is now preparing its final push to ensure that the bill is clear about providing health care as a public good for all, not as a commodity sold by private insurance companies.
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