Health care as a human right?
Written By Michelle Monroe
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

ST. ALBANS CITY — The Vermont Worker’s Center (VWC) has launched a statewide campaign to re-conceptualize health care as a human right and change what is “politically possible,” according to VWC organizer Erika Simard.

VWC is a member-run organization best known for its worker’s rights hotline. This is the first time the organization has run a statewide, grass roots campaign. It was inspired, in part, by the number of calls concerning health care that are received on the hotline, Simard explained.

The initial phase of the campaign, which will culminate in a Sick Day at the state capitol on May 1, 2009, will focus on a survey of Vermonters beliefs about health care and experiences with the current health care system. VWC is also hoping to organize house parties where attendees will have the chance to view a shorter version of the Michael Moore film “Sicko.”

VWC plans to hold hearings on health care as human right, and to compile its survey results and hearing testimony into a written report. The intent, Simard said, is to put “the health care crisis on trial.”

Dozens of Vermonters have already signed on to be part of organizing committees around the state, according to Simard.

Those people will use their natural connections with neighbors, friends, family and co-workers to build a grass roots organization, Simard said.

Janice Santiago, a St. Albans resident who has signed on to help with the campaign, said she will probably start with her neighbors. “I think health care is a vital human need,” Santiago said.

“The effort is really to try to speak to people who haven’t been involved in politics before,” Colin Robinson of the Peace and Justice Center said.

The Peace and Justice Center (PJC) has joined with VWC for this campaign. The Center is currently focused on passing legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave for all Vermonters. According to information provided by the Peace and Justice Center, 66 percent of Vermont’s private employers do not offer paid sick leave, and 135,000 Vermont workers do not have paid sick days.

Traditionally, Robinson explained, PJC has focused its efforts on securing a livable wage. “The livable wage keeps going up because the cost of living keeps going up,” Robinson said. Until rising costs for health care, housing, energy and other necessities can be brought under control, a living wage may not be attainable, according to Robinson.

The campaign is not connected to the upcoming elections, Simard said. “We have a broader view that we’re working on,” she said. “Something needs to change,” Simard said, adding, “The only thing that really makes sense is to make it a human right and build from there.”

“The United States is the only ‘industrialized’ country that doesn’t provide health care as a right to every resident from cradle to grave,” VWC states in campaign literature.

Discussing the financing of health care, VWC points out that in order to cover the costs of providing health care to the uninsured, hospitals and other providers raise the fees charged to private insurers, which in turn raise their fees. “Establishing healthcare as a human right where universal coverage comes from an equitable system of taxes only makes sense. It would establish a system where we all pay what we can afford and everyone is covered,” VWC states.