Single Payer Isn't Dead: How States Are Keeping the Movement Alive

Originally published at Truthout.

The grassroots single-payer movement in Vermont reflects the growing belief that the fight to make healthcare a human right must come from the states. But will the passage of federal reform get in the way?

Burlington, VT – When Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March, many thought the long and tedious stretch of legislative wrangling and endless debates about healthcare reform had come to an end and the prospects for further meaningful reform would be shelved for years or decades.

But while the country was consumed with the incredibly narrow debate in D.C., dictated largely by drug and insurance lobbyists, anti-abortion politicians, and a collection of conservative Democratic senators with close ties to the insurance and drug industries, another significant healthcare battle was taking place hundreds of miles to the north, in the tiny little state of Vermont, population, 600,000. By the time Obama signed a federal healthcare bill into law, the Vermont Workers' Center was almost two years into its “Healthcare is a Human Rights campaign,” which had the unambiguous goal of abolishing for-profit healthcare in the state and passing a state-wide, single-payer healthcare system that guarantees healthcare as a right to all Vermonters. In May, the Vermont Legislature, under constant pressure from this growing people's movement, passed a bill that could possibly lead to Vermont being the first state to pass a single-payer healthcare system, setting up what could be a crucial phase of the fight for healthcare justice.

If Vermont is able to break this ground, the implications could reverberate well past the borders of the Green Mountain State. The fight for state-wide single-payer here reflects a growing belief among healthcare activists that the path to a universal public system, will not take place in Washington D.C, where moneyed interests have a death grip on the legislative process, but through state houses across the country. Further, the effort in Vermont may prove to be the first test case of the “state innovation” language in the federal reform bill, and could indicate if Obamacare will ultimately serve to enable state-wide single-payer systems or if it will kill them. Finally, the movement in Vermont also highlights a fascinating debate over the rhetoric of healthcare reform. Should advocates point to the significant savings associated with single-payer healthcare and the unsustainability of the current system? Or, should the primary emphasis view the fight for public healthcare as a matter of basic human rights?

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