Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign Succeeds in Getting Anti-Immigrant Amendment Struck

After days of mobilization, protests and vigils by the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign, Vermont legislators agreed to remove from the universal health care bill a harmful amendment that would have excluded undocumented people from "universal" health care. The conference committee of the Senate and House struck the definition of residents that would have excluded anyone "not lawfully present." This means that every resident of Vermont will be eligible for participation in Green Mountain Care, the publicly financed health care system Vermont seeks to implement by 2017 at the latest.

Legislators inserted a provision in the bill for studying the impacts of covering or not covering undocumented immigrants through Green Mountain Care, taking into account federal funding constraints and costs to the state, including costs arising from avoidable health conditions caused by restricted and delayed access to care.

Supporters of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign stressed that standing united and keeping the moral high ground by defending the most basic human rights principle – universality – enabled them to overcome this attempt to divide the community at large and health care activists in particular.

Media coverage:

Lawmakers call for study of migrant worker health care

Anne Galloway, VT Digger, May 3, 2011

The Health Care Conference Committee meetings on Monday were more like one seemingly never-ending sit-in or vigil than a series of hearings designed to address technical corrections to H.202, the universal health care reform bill. The meetings were held sporadically on Monday throughout the day. The last meeting was at 8 p.m.

The lawmakers met off and on over the course of 10.5 hours, the committee, comprised of three senators and three representatives, sorted out the details of H.202 and the controversial Brock-Sears amendment.

Some of the 30 to 40 activists from the Vermont Workers Center, who haunted the hallways of the Statehouse most of the day, attempted to wait out the laborious committee process, and they managed to succeed.

The activists were there for one reason: To make sure lawmakers changed the Sears-Brock amendment, a provision that, in their view, explicitly excluded undocumented workers out of the state’s new health care system. […]

The activists’ persistence appeared to pay off. The committee members decided to strike the amendment language and replace it with a study of coverage and services for undocumented residents.

Rep. Mark Larson, D-Burlington, chair of the House Health Care Committee, proposed to eliminate the clause because he said it raised legal, financial and larger moral issues.

Meghan Sheehan, one of the activists, said she was pleased that the language had been changed. “This is a divisive issue that is used as a wedge often,” Sheehan said. “Our campaign is clear health care is a human right regardless of where a person is from. We can’t exclude the most marginal people in our community.”

Peg Franzen, president of the Workers Center, said the amendment violated a key principle of the campaign. “This had to happen; we had to be true to the mission,” Franzen said. […]

Health Care Campaign Mobilization Stops Exclusion of Undocumented from Universal Health Care

WDEV, Equal Time with Traven Leyshon, May 3, 2011

Robert Appel, VT Human Rights Commission & Cheryl Mitchell, Addison County Farm Workers Coalition discuss the importance of including the undocumented in Vermont’s universal health care reform. The Vermont Workers’ Center’s Health Care is a Human Right Campaign and Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project mobilized thousands of Vermonters in a May Day rally, phone calls, emails, and a mass lobby of the legislators to defeat a discriminatory amendment to health care reform legislation that would have excluded one of Vermont’s most vulnerable populations, undocumented farm workers. Thanks to Tom Juravich, Tom Russell and David Rovics for clips of their musical commentaries on our broken immigration system.

Listen to the podcast here.

Vt. Lawmakers Resolve Immigrant Health Care Issue

Dave Gram, Associated Press/Bloomberg BusinessWeek, May 3, 2011

Montpelier, Vt. – 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.

[…] After the Senate last week adopted the amendment proposed by Sens. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, and Richard Sears, D-Bennington, activists with the Health Care is a Human Right Campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center, who had been providing strong grass-roots support for the health reform measure, turned on the senators.

[…] Brock is not on the conference committee, and the senators who are showed their willingness to jettison his and Sears’ amendment under pressure from the activists.

[…] "The human rights perspective certainly is a worthy one," Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, vice chairman of the House Health Care Committee and a member of the conference committee, said in an interview shortly after Monday evening’s session. "There’s also financial issues that warrant our attention, and legal ones."

Health care debate hits glitch with immigration

Andrea Suozzo, Addison County Independent, May 5, 2011

MONTPELIER — Following public outcry, a conference committee working to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the recent health care bill on Tuesday announced it had removed language that would bar illegal immigrants from health coverage.

[…] “What we saw with this last-minute amendment was an attempt to exclude people,” said James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, which leads the “Healthcare Is a Human Right” campaign.

On Sunday, the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign brought more than 2,000 people to the streets of Montpelier in support of the state’s universal health care plan, and another 40 people headed to the statehouse on Monday specifically to protest the amendment.

Haslam said a bill that creates an exclusionary single-payer system right off the bat goes against the first goal of a universal health care plan — that is, universality. Further, he said that many undocumented workers in the state already have payroll taxes deducted for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid without ever reaping benefits from those programs.

[…] Ultimately, said [Senator] Ayer[member of the conference committee], covering farm workers under Green Mountain Care would likely not be very expensive as most are relatively young and healthy.

“It would be a sensible thing for an ag state to do, to allow ag workers to buy into the policy,” she said.