Karen Saunders: Moving forward on human rights – not a step back

This commentary is from Karen Saunders of Brattleboro, vice president of the Vermont Workers’ Center.

In the last years of his life, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. launched the Poor People’s Campaign – a crusade to unite the poor across color lines in a broad movement to end poverty, poverty and poverty. racism and militarism and to guarantee human rights for all.

“There is nothing new about poverty,” he said in 1967. “What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. Why should there be hunger and deprivation in any country, in any city, at any table, when man (sic) has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?

Dr. King’s moral condemnation of the nation’s political and economic priorities holds true today. More than 800,000 people in the United States have died from Covid-19, while millions more have been pushed into poverty and mental health crises. Yet, rather than solving these social problems, the benefits of publicly funded cutting-edge research and technology have instead flowed into military budgets and the pockets of billionaires.

The resources and scientific know-how to invest in public health and human rights are all there – and if the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that government must take the lead in regulating the wrong actors and drive the necessary social and economic changes.

Here in Vermont, tens of thousands of people have benefited from the state’s eviction moratorium and motel voucher program, expanded Medicaid eligibility, and the mobilization of response workers. emergency to distribute Covid tests and vaccines. Thousands more have been kept afloat by the federal government’s expanded unemployment insurance and child tax credit.

However, as the Omicron variant tears our communities apart, Vermont leaders are poised to roll back even these band-aid solutions. It appears they have also taken the issue of expanding public health care programs off the table, falling back on a “trickle down health care” model that trusts unproven payment reform rather than to direct investment in health personnel and services.

Unless lawmakers step in, Vermont’s motel voucher program will end on March 30, leaving hundreds without access to housing.

On the health care front, adult Medicaid enrollment increased by 15,000 between July 2020 and July 2021, in part due to the suspension of re-determination of eligibility during the pandemic. Yet instead of building on this expansion to get more and more people onto Medicaid, the state is already preparing to kick thousands of people out of the program once the federal public health emergency lifts, leaving those people to the cruel vagaries of the insurance market.

If we want our system to provide more care and less bureaucracy, the money is there. OneCare Vermont, a subsidiary of UVM Health Network, saved $23 million in 2020 because many people avoided going to the doctor. However, under the terms of the contract with OneCare, the state and federal governments must reimburse them for this “care.”

This public money should be used to increase the salaries of health care workers and expand access to care, not to pay UVM Health Network for care that no one has received.

Is there anything worse than a global pandemic that could wake us up to the need to invest directly in public health and housing for all?

Last year, the Legislature took promising steps by creating an Affordable and Accessible Health Care Task Force to make health care more affordable for Vermont residents and employers. Unfortunately, the task force, which many saw as our state’s best hope for positive health care reform in a decade, instead offered piecemeal reforms that tinker around the edges of a broken system — essentially rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Task force members, who declined to hold public hearings, carefully avoided discussing the real cause of sky-high medical costs and poor health outcomes: treating health care as a business rather than a commodity. public.

This corporate mentality, which runs counter to the state’s human rights obligations, is behind the decision of successive Vermont leaders to consolidate our health care system under the of the UVM Health Network, driving up costs and creating challenges for providers and patients across the state. The task force’s reluctance to consider a different system of care delivery means its recommendations fall far short of addressing the affordability and access crisis.

In addressing the issue of reforms, Dr. King observed in 1967 that “the prescription for a cure rests on the accurate diagnosis of disease”. Later that year he added, “We must recognize that we cannot solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power.

With the stalemate in Washington, D.C., for the foreseeable future, state lawmakers have a responsibility to fight for this kind of transformative change — and the first step they can take is to make state reforms permanent and universal. era. Let’s move forward together, not a step back.

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