Single-payer health care: dead in Washington, but alive in the states
Insurance companies may be winning the fight in Washington, but California and Vermont are on the cusp of comprehensive reform.
(Page 2 of 2)
"We think this could really happen here," says James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers' Center. "There is a lot of excitement around this issue. Vermont could become a model for the rest of the country."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Indeed, Vermont may be the state best suited to tackle single-payer. According to a study commissioned by the Vermont Legislature in 2006, Vermont would save $51 million a year if it switched to single-payer. The state is also home to a supportive congressional delegation. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has introduced legislation in the Senate that would enable states to have single-payer systems of their own.
There are also strong prospects for single-payer healthcare in California, where the legislature has twice passed single-payer, only to have it vetoed both times by Governor Schwarzenegger.
But Schwarzenegger has served two terms and will be replaced in 2010, a fact that has emboldened grass-roots activists. "The governor's race is the next stage for the single-payer battle in California," says Chuck Idelson, a spokesman for the California Nurses Association, which has been fighting for single-payer for years. "We need to elect a candidate that is open to single-payer."
The California Nurses Association was also instrumental in lobbying for an amendment, added by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio to a House version of the federal healthcare reform bill, that would remove potential legal impediments for states to pass single-payer bills by waiving federal exemptions that apply to employer-sponsored health plans from the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
"Even if we passed single-payer tomorrow, there would still be a protracted legal battle due to ERISA," Idelson said. "That is why this amendment is so important as we push for single-payer."
But whatever obstacles to statewide single-payer exist, they are small compared to the barriers faced in Washington, where the option was taken off the table before the national conversation began. And with vibrant single-payer movements taking place, not only in Vermont and California, but also New Mexico, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Montana, and elsewhere, it is clear that as long as Washington is impervious to change, the fight for public healthcare must be waged one state at a time.