What happened in Vermont where a so-called single payer proposal died?
For decades healthcare advocates in the state of Maryland worked with state senator Paul Pinsky who introduced a state health bill each year calling for a universal healthcare system that is publicly financed, a single payer system. Even when advocates educated lawmakers, gathered co-sponsors and testified in committees about the dire need for a health system that would solve the current healthcare crisis, one based on solid evidence, the bill fell flat. The closest we came was one vote short of getting it passed in one committee. We had all of the facts on our side, but no political muscle to move the bill.
The people in Vermont took a different approach starting in 2009, and we in Maryland have since followed their lead. The Vermont Worker’s Center and allies started by first building the grassroots movement necessary to provide that muscle. They focused on educating people throughout the state and used a human rights framework to do that.
After years of work to elect a favorable governor, pass legislation and implement it, the people of Vermont were recently spurned by Governor Peter Shumlin when he announced that the state would not go ahead with the health law as planned. This turn of events provides an important lens for examining what happened in the advocacy for health reform and what must be done now. The fight for universal healthcare has been going on for a century in the US and it is certainly not over because of Shumlin’s failure.
I want to say from the beginning that I applaud the people of Vermont. Hindsight is always clearer. The groups on the forefront of this struggle face many critical issues that need attention and lack adequate resources as it is for most groups that are working to change the system. So this article is not a criticism of them, but rather an analysis of the situation and what we can learn from it for current organizing efforts throughout the US as well as next steps in Vermont.