New York City/Montpelier, VT – Today, Thursday, May 5, 2011, the Vermont House of Representatives passed the final version of a health reform bill that creates a path for a universal, publicly funded health care system in Vermont. The Senate passed the same bill, H.202, on Tuesday, May 3, 2011. Governor Peter Shumlin is expected to sign the bill into law within the next two weeks. Observers largely credit the passage of universal health care to the grassroots organizing of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign, which mobilized thousands of ordinary Vermonters to demand their human right to health care.
“This bill is a victory for our movement, for all Vermonters, and for the country as a whole. Vermont is now the first state in the country to move toward a universal health care system that will provide health care as a public good for everyone,” said James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, which started the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign in 2008. “Our success shows that when people come together, make their voices heard and demand their rights, we can overcome well-funded special interests and change what’s politically possible.”
The bill passed by the legislature states that Vermont will create a publicly financed health care system, Green Mountain Care. Green Mountain Care will provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Vermont residents as a public good, regardless of income, health status, or employment. Green Mountain Care will be implemented once the requirements of the federal health reform law have been fulfilled, along with several other conditions. The Vermont legislature will decide about the financing of the system and the health benefits package by 2013.
The crucial role of human rights activists in passing this bill became particularly clear when pressure from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign prompted legislators to drop a last-minute amendment that would have excluded undocumented people from universal health care. In response, members of the Campaign mobilized hundreds of Vermonters to stand up for the human rights principle of universality. After days of constituents’ phone calls, protests, and a large rally on May 1st, the exclusionary amendment was struck.
“By moving toward a publicly financed health care system based on human rights principles, the people of Vermont are setting a powerful example for the rest of the country,” said Anja Rudiger, program director at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, a national non-profit organization. “This achievement is the result of an emerging grassroots organizing model that is inclusive, led by the people and based on human rights principles, not on money and special interests.”
Despite this achievement, the struggle led by the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign is far from over. The process of implementing a universal health care system will take three to five years, and the role of private insurance companies, which profit by restricting people’s access to care, was not sufficiently clarified in the bill. However, the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign has been growing with each legislative success, and is continuing to build a sustainable movement for human rights.
Anja Rudiger, Program Director
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
Information for Editors:
1. Vermont Workers’ Center: www.workerscenter.org
Spokespeople from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign are available upon request.
2. National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI)
3. For an example of attributing the passage of the universal health care bill to human rights organizing, see the May 5, 2011, “Adventure in Democracy” editorial in one of Vermont’s largest newspapers, The Times Argus (http://timesargus.com/section/OPINION01, subscription-only web access): “Fundamental to the new plan is a concept effectively promoted by a grass-roots campaign that persistently drummed home its message: Health care is a human right.”
4. See Bloomberg BusinessWeek, May 3, 2011, for an example of attributing the dropping of the exclusion of undocumented immigrants to the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign: “Vermont Senate negotiators dropped an amendment to bar illegal immigrants from coverage under a new state health care program, delivering a victory Monday evening to human rights activists who had rallied repeatedly at the Statehouse to demand the change.” […] “Senators … showed their willingness to jettison [the] amendment under pressure from the activists.” http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9MVVDE82.htm
5. For more background on the approach and history of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign, see this 4 minute video, http://vimeo.com/22096820, and this 1 minute video PSA: http://www.youtube.com/user/NESRIVIDEOS#p/u/5/lDJuJ51khXM
6. See this Huffington Post piece for a discussion of the legislative negotiations and the role of the human rights campaign: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anja-rudiger/vermont-single-payer-_b_853999.html
7. See this TV report on WCAX as an example of coverage of the May 1st rally, which brought thousands of Vermonter to the Statehouse in Montpelier to demand the human right to health care: http://www.wcax.com/story/14550883/health-care-bill-in-the-homestretch
8. An event on May 18, 2011, at 7:30pm in New York City will bring national health care reform advocates together to discuss the significance of Vermont’s universal health care bill for health care reform in the United States. It is open to the press.