By Katie Robbins –
Days after thousands of healthcare rights advocates rallied in Montpelier, Vermont, the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Healthcare is a Human Campaign was successful in forcing the state Senate to strike a harmful amendment from the universal healthcare bill that would have excluded undocumented immigrants from the state’s proposed universal healthcare system.
Among the many activists, labor leaders, and healthcare providers speaking at the May 1st rally was Javier, a dairy farm worker and one of 1,500 undocumented workers in the state. He explained that dairy farming lead him to develop “farmer’s lung,” which is caused by breathing in dust, fungus, or molds. Because he is uninsured, high healthcare costs force Javier to delay seeing a doctor. As a result, he doesn’t know the severity of his lung damage.
Unfortunately, Javier’s story is common. National studies show that immigrants pay more into than they get out of our healthcare system. They are more likely to be uninsured and face barriers to accessing care, while paying more out-of-pocket. Under the new national health law (the Affordable Care Act), immigrants are excluded from Medicaid if eligible for the first five years of residency, and millions of people will remain excluded from the health exchanges because of residency restrictions.
According to Vermont Workers’ Center organizer Kate Kennelstein, this amendment, “is one of many times we have had to defend human rights. It is straight out of the right-wing play book. We need to use it to bring people together rather than allow it to divide us.”
Kennelstein’s fellow organizers, Meghan Sheehan and Sarah Weintraub, see this as an educational moment; a time to have conversations with people about the definition of what universal health care really means. They also recognize that tactics like this are intended to divide Vermonters demanding healthcare reform.
In under a week, the Vermont Workers’ Center collected hundreds of signatures on postcards demanding that the amendment be struck and delivered them to their legislators on Monday morning as deliberations were taking place in the conference committee between the House and Senate. Additional organizing pressure was felt throughout the day with dozens of volunteers filling the committee hearing throughout the 12 hour day wearing large stickers that read “universal = everyone.”
Before the committee meeting was over, legislators agreed to strike the amendment. The power of the people to demand and pressure legislators was inspiring to watch. The Vermont Workers’ Center has shown the country what it means to stand with all of our brothers and sisters in making healthcare a human right for everyone. Together, let’s keep up the fight to make sure universal healthcare truly means universal!
Healthcare-NOW! continues to organize for national legislation to expand and improve Medicare to everyone, guaranteeing health care as a human right to all, and supports the many efforts to start a model in states. To find out more about Vermont, visit www.workerscenter.org and to join the national movement, visit dev.healthcare-now.org.
Everybody in! Nobody out!