Jessica Morrison: Well being care process drive should use a human rights framework

This comment is from Jessica Morrison of Burlington, a nurse and a member of the Vermont Workers’ Center.

At that meeting, Vermont lawmakers established a Task Force on Affordable, Accessible Healthcare, charged with soliciting public input and reporting on its findings to the 2022 legislature.

The task force provides a long overdue opportunity to address the Vermont healthcare access and affordability crisis, only exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of Vermont people are grappling with high health care costs and debt, while pharmaceutical and health insurance companies pour billions off health care into the pockets of shareholders and investors.

This is a human rights crisis of the greatest magnitude that arises directly from political decisions that increase profits over human life. Healthcare reform must therefore be guided by human rights principles and mechanisms that enable it to be implemented: public funding and democratic control.

In 2011, Vermont passed Act 48, which introduced the country’s first universal, publicly funded healthcare system. Despite finding that universal health care would increase the net income of 93 percent of Vermont families, in 2015 lawmakers abandoned their voters and refused to fund them as it bowed to pressures from big business and the rich.

Public funding means expanding Medicaid to everyone in Vermont, regardless of income or immigration status. Partial reform measures such as adding age groups to Medicaid or expanding only certain forms of care, the pit communities and our health needs against each other.

Legislators have to see through the argument that states like Vermont should wait for a national “Medicare for All” program similar to the old preacher who tells workers not to organize because they “get cakes in the sky if” they die”.

Courageous government experimentation paves the way to a universal national health program. With the Biden government signaling its support for innovative government exemptions, the Vermont Healthcare Affordability Task Force has every reason to take over the baton and recommend funding for Act 48.

Democratic oversight means that state government works with health workers and communities to build a public health system that serves the people in every region of our state. Our current system alienates and disempowers the people it is intended to serve.

A democratically controlled health system would encourage the participation of all, especially poor and marginalized people, in their health care decisions. Patients, workers and the public sector need to come together so that Vermont can hold drug and insurance companies – and corporate hospital networks – accountable for their high prices.

Task force members must acknowledge that the current model of the All-Payer Accountable Care Organization is not designed to improve access to affordable health care and is, in fact, an obstacle to achieving that goal.

Despite promises to the contrary, the responsible care model has accelerated corporate consolidation under UVM Health Network and Dartmouth-Hitchcock while basic and preventive care remain high and dry. It has consumed millions of dollars in Medicaid public money and demanded years of resources and expertise from numerous government agencies, including the Green Mountain Care Board, which is increasingly acting as a cheerleader of the model rather than a regulator.

As we enter a new phase in the Covid-19 pandemic, Task Force members must prioritize their constituents’ needs for affordable health and basic services over complex and expensive systems that do not improve people’s quality of life.

There is no moral argument for extending the life of a health system that favors the rich over the poor and exacerbates inequalities of race, gender, disability and immigrant status. Members of the Task Force on Healthcare Affordability have an opportunity to recommend a human rights-based approach to health care reform that will improve people’s well-being and inspire the rest of the country.

But as the Act 48 experience shows, we cannot afford to wait for politicians to do the right thing. We need to organize independently and understand that we are in a battle with health profiteers and big business. If you have a health care story you want to share, join us for an online / in-person hybrid hearing on people’s right to health care on Wednesday June 30th. All people, all care – health care is a human right!

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