By Martha Allen
Many people may have been surprised and a little curious about the announcement last week that Vermont-NEA was backing the move toward universal, publicly funded health care. After all, the thinking goes, members of the state’s largest union already have comprehensive and affordable health insurance, so why on earth would they support Vermont’s efforts to become the first U.S. state to go down this road?
The answer, of course, is that the creation of Green Mountain Care is good for Vermonters. A universally available, comprehensive, fair and publicly funded health care package would serve all of us better than the private insurance system we have now. And, besides, my union has been a strong advocate and influential player in the health care reform movement since the 1990s.
We have long endorsed decoupling health coverage from employment, freeing workers and businesses from the burdens imposed by today’s piecemeal, often confusing patchwork of a system. Our history of advocacy and our health care principles demonstrate an abiding commitment to making access to affordable health care a right of every Vermonter.
We know that most of our members are satisfied with the health coverage they get through the Vermont Education Health Initiative, the unique and highly successful program jointly run by Vermont-NEA and the Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust. For two decades, it has provided the kind of health care coverage and security that allows our members, their families and retirees to remain healthy and focus on other aspects of their lives.
Green Mountain Care can accomplish the same thing. Indeed, if done correctly, this publicly financed program can extend quality care to all Vermonters. If done correctly, Green Mountain Care can ensure that all Vermonters, regardless of where they work or what they earn, will have comprehensive health coverage they can afford and never have to worry about losing.
Too often, I and my fellow members see what happens to children whose families are struggling: at low-wage jobs, in substandard housing and in providing enough food to eat. Too often, we see families who don’t have adequate health insurance, and we see children in those families worried about parents and relatives who are sick and lack health care. Too often, these children are struggling to keep up and learn along with their peers.
Vermont-NEA is proud to support Vermont Leads, and we have already pledged more than $100,000 to see that its advocacy for Green Mountain Care is dogged, effective and, ultimately, successful.
In their responses to a poll we commissioned, Vermonters overwhelmingly support the publicly financed health programs that already exist: Medicare, Dr. Dynasaur and Catamount Health. Vermonters also support the creation of Green Mountain Care, especially if it bars denial of service for pre-existing conditions, has reasonable co-payments and deductibles and if there were no annual or lifetime caps on benefits.
Many have said that Vermont can’t do this alone. But isn’t that always what we hear when committed leaders and people set out to change an unjust status quo?
Over the next two years, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something truly revolutionary about health care in Vermont. We understand the skepticism expressed by some, particularly given the rocky start of enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. But we also understand that we must not allow momentum toward a universally available, comprehensive, fair and portable health benefit to stall.
Vermont-NEA’s members have been at the forefront of social justice issues for more than a century, and have done great work to ensure that working people and their families are treated fairly, compensated justly and allowed to live with dignity. We pledge to continue that great tradition and will not waver in our commitment to making sure Green Mountain Care brings comprehensive, affordable benefits for all of us.
Martha Allen, of Canaan, is a K-12 school librarian who is president of Vermont-NEA, the union of Vermont educators.