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, alongside our partner NESRI, we launched a campaign for a People's Budget with the goal of flipping the script on our state budget and revenue policies: Starting with a participatory assessment of people's fundamental needs, then equitably raising the revenue required to meet those needs. 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. The next day, the Health Care is a Human Right Campaign held a rally on the statehouse steps, with dozens of working-class people burning our health care bills and calling on legislators to lead in the governor's absence.
Governor Shumlin released his long-delayed health care financing plan on the last day of 2014. 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 following month, the Campaign released our own Equitable Financing Plan for Vermont's Universal Health Care System, addressing inequities in the Shumlin administration's plan, 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 and other public health care programs, 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.
The Campaign focused our attention on organizing against annual health insurance rate hikes at the Green Mountain Care Board and supporting nurses and health care workers to become an effective counterweight to the growing power of Vermont's big hospital networks. Through our efforts, hundreds of people walked the picket line with health care workers, submitted public comment, 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.
VWC members kicked off 2019 with a successful push for lawmakers to double the adult Medicaid dental benefit. In June, our members in Barre hosted the second March for Medicaid, bringing hundreds of people together to share stories and build political will for lawmakers to use Medicaid as the foundation for a renewed move towards universal health care.
This fall, we held five health care forums across the state, bringing 200 people together to build support for our Health Care is a Human Right 2020 Platform and Pledge. We're currently gearing up for a Medicaid Assembly at the Statehouse on January 28th, 2020 to meet with lawmakers and ask for their support on the pledge - Hope to see you there!