Vermont governor signs historic single payer health care law

On May 26, Governor Peter Shumlin (D) signed the legislation passed earlier by the VT House and Senate making Vermont the first state to make health care a right and not a privilege. Hopefully, it will be a model for the rest of the country, a system designed to take care of the people of the state, rather than provide profits for  Big Pharma and the health insurance industry. The state will spend the next four years setting up the system.

“This law recognizes an economic and fiscal imperative – that we must control the growth in health care costs that are putting families at economic risk and making it harder for small employers to do business,” the Governor said.

Just as importantly, he added, “We have a moral imperative to fix this problem, with 47,000 Vermonters uninsured and another 150,000 underinsured and worried about how to afford keeping their families healthy.”

According to Think Progress:

In order to actually enact the system, the state needs a waiver from the Affordable Care Act health reform law. Currently, the federal government will start handing out state waivers in 2017 — three years after Vermont wants to implement its system. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) has introduced an amendment that would move the waiver date up to 2014, an idea that President Obama has endorsed.

Because of the corrupting influence of Big Pharma and health insurance corporations on House and Senate members, it will be exceedingly difficult to get a single payer health care system passed first at the federal level. But there is a chance that the U.S. could eventually end up with a single payer system on a state-by-state basis. For example, Canada did not begin with a federal system. It arrived there through a series of incremental steps.

Canada developed its universal health care system province by province

The Canadian province of Saskatchewan had always had a chronic shortage of doctors, which led to towns using public monies to subsidize doctors to practice there. Then, various communities joined together to create subsidized hospitals. In 1946, building on its tradition of government involvement in health care, the government of Saskatchewan passed the Saskatchewan Hospitalization Act, which guaranteed free hospital care for much of its population. It had hoped to provide universal health care, but the province did not have the money.

In 1950, Alberta created a program similar to Saskatchewan’s, which included hospitalization and prepaid health services providing medical coverage to over 90% of its population.

In 1957, the federal government of Canada passed the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act‘ to fund 50% of the cost of such programs that Saskatchewan and Alberta had created for any provincial government that adopted them. The HIDS Act outlined five conditions:

  • public administration
  • comprehensiveness
  • universality
  • portability
  • accessibility.

These remain the pillars of the Canada Health Act. By 1961, all ten provinces had agreed to start HIDS Act programs. So, it was province by province that Canada moved toward universal, free health coverage for all.

Do Canadians like their single payer health care system?

Canadians strongly support their publicly funded health care system. In a 2009 poll by Nanos Research, 86.2% of Canadians surveyed supported or strongly supported public solutions to make our public health care stronger.

A 2009 Harris/Decima poll found 82% of Canadians preferred their healthcare system to the one in the United States, with only 8% stating a preference for a US-style health care system. A Strategic Counsel survey in 2008 found 91% of Canadians preferring their healthcare system to that of the U.S.

Is Vermont the “camel’s nose under the tent” for single payer in the U.S.?

Hopefully Vermont will serve as a model for  achieving universal single payer health care in the United States. It will not happen over night, but if Vermont and other states are successful in setting up efficient and cost-effective single payer systems that provide universal health care and improve the quality of life for their residents, the idea of healthcare as a right will supplant health care as a privilege. Hopefully, in time, the for-profit health care system we have today, will become nothing more than a bad memory.