In 2008, the Vermont Workers' Center embarked on an ambitious project to guarantee health care for everyone in our state.
The Health Care is a Human Right Campaign began with a survey of 1200 Vermont residents, culminating in the release of a report entitled Voices of the Vermont Healthcare Crisis: The Human Right to Healthcare. The report confirmed what we suspected: That working-class families were not only deeply impacted by the health care crisis, but overwhelmingly believed that health care should be a human right.
In the months to follow, the campaign held people's health care forums across the state, drawing hundreds of people to share their health care story and call for the passage of a universal, publicly financed health care system in Vermont.
After building a statewide grassroots movement and holding the largest weekday rally in Vermont history on May 1st, International Workers' Day, we moved our efforts to the statehouse, framing our demand through five Human Rights Principles:
- Universality: Human rights must be afforded to everyone, without exception. It is by virtue of being human, alone, that every person is entitled to human rights.
- Equity: Every person is entitled to the same ability to enjoy human rights. Health care resources and services must be distributed and accessed according to people’s needs, not according to payment, privilege or any other factor. Disparities and discrimination in healthcare must be eliminated, as must any barriers resulting from policies or practices.
- Accountability: Mechanisms must exist to enable enforcement of human rights. It is not enough merely to recognize human rights. There must be means of holding the government accountable for failing to meet human rights standards.
- Transparency: Government must be open with regard to information and decision-making processes. People must be able to know how public institutions needed to protect human rights are managed and run.
- Participation: Government must engage people and support their participation in decisions about how their human rights are ensured.
In 2010, with thousands of people calling on them to act, Vermont's lawmakers passed Act 128, establishing a commission to design a new health care system for our state.
The following year in 2011, with hundreds of Health Care is a Human Right Campaign supporters flooding the statehouse, Vermont's legislators and governor signed Act 48 into law, setting Vermont on course to implement the nation's first universal, publicly financed health care system and establishing a five-person Green Mountain Care Board to oversee the system.
Click here to watch "The Vermont Breakthrough", a short video published telling the story of this period--including the successful effort to strike a discriminatory amendment that would have excluded undocumented people from accessing health care.
Now, the battle was on to implement a progressive tax package that would fully fund Green Mountain Care without pulling resources from education or other social programs.
In 2012, working with Partners for Dignity and Rights, we succeeded in passing a law specifying that Vermont's state budget must "address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity," including "every person’s need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security, and a healthy environment.” That summer, we held a People's Convention for Human Rights that brought 500 people together in Burlington, inspiring allies in Maine and Pennsylvania to start their own campaigns and form the Health Care is a Human Right Collaborative.
But our fight for health care and human dignity ran into powerful opposition. Over the course of 2012 - 2014, we faced a powerful counteroffensive by the health insurance industry, big businesses, and the wealthiest people in our state to abandon health care reform efforts and defend low tax rates for corporations and the wealthy.
In December 2014, the counteroffensive bore fruit when then-governor Peter Shumlin announced that he would abandon universal health care in Vermont, caving to pressure from big business and the wealthy. He gave himself an out by proposing a lopsided payroll tax that would have hurt small businesses, but even with this easily-addressed inequity, the plan he abandoned would have reduced health care costs for 93 percent of Vermont families.
The Health Care is a Human Right Campaign kicked off the 2015 legislative session with a rally inside the statehouse, as hundreds of people called on lawmakers to implement a financing bill for universal health care. Twenty-nine people were arrested in a powerful sit-in on the statehouse floor. The Campaign released our own Equitable Financing Plan for Vermont's Universal Health Care System along with a support letter signed by 100 economists and a House bill co-sponsored by nine representatives. But with legislative leadership falling in line behind their governor, the bill failed to move forward, bringing to a close an important chapter in Vermont history and the national movement for a public health care system.
With the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and new threats to Medicaid, we re-launched the Health Care is a Human Right Campaign with a sign-on letter from over 20 Vermont labor and community organizations urging our lawmakers to pick up the torch on universal healthcare. Hundreds of people walked the picket line with health care workers, submitted public comment against health insurance rate hikes, and called on the Green Mountain Care Board to stay true to its mission of protecting the public good as it regulates health care actors.
In 2018, we began to focus on organizing Medicaid recipients with a "March for Medicaid" march and rally in St. Johnsbury, bringing 200 people together to call on lawmakers to protect and expand Medicaid in the face of growing threats at a national level. Our second March for Medicaid in 2019 saw 200 people march down the streets of Barre, followed by a March for Medicaid Speaking Tour across the state and Medicaid Assembly at the statehouse in Jaunary 2020.
As the coronavirus pandemic set off the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, we launched a petition calling on Governor Scott to immediately expand Medicaid to everyone in Vermont, regardless of income or immigration status, and to keep our rural hospitals open by taking them into public ownership.
In April, we published a public letter calling on Governor Scott to cut the state's contract with OneCare Vermont, a private, for-profit company that's siphoned off tens of millions in Medicaid funding without providing any benefit to Vermont residents. In July 2020, after mounting evidence of the unaffordability of Vermont's current privatized, multi-payer health care system, we joined Partners for Dignity and Rights in re-releasing our Equitable Financing Plan for Vermont's Universal Healthcare System to demonstrate that finishing the work of implementing universal healthcare in Vermont is both feasible and necessary.