In this newsletter:

This week we’ve been hit with an onslaught of bad news. Thousands of immigrant children are still detained and separated from their families, and the Supreme Court has validated Trump’s Muslim ban and attacks on unions and workers. But news and history aren’t just things that happens to us: they are things that we can shape and create. People’s movements are as important now as ever. All over the country and around the world, people are taking collective action to challenge injustices, proclaim our values, grow democratic institutions, and shift power from self-serving corporations and individuals to everyday people. Here’s the latest news and history we’re creating in our Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns for universal, publicly financed healthcare and an economy and society that put people ahead of profits.

Poor People’s Campaign

Fifty years after the original Poor People’s Campaign, we have joined with allies to launch a new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC). In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Civil Rights leaders led the Poor People’s Campaign to demand a real war on poverty, full employment, guaranteed wages, and affordable housing. Today poverty, joblessness, the shortage of affordable housing, and the denial of healthcare are as urgent as ever.

Put People First! Pennsylvania (PPF-PA) has taken a leading role in Pennsylvania’s Poor People’s Campaign, turning out members to all six days of action at the State House during the PPC’s 40 days of action in May and June, and culminating in a march on Washington on Saturday, June 23.

At a June 4 rally in Harrisburg, PPF-PA member Tammy Rojas spoke about her inability to afford dental care—and her consequent development of advanced periodontal disease—because access to dental care is not always covered through Medicaid or private insurance.

“Things must change now,” said Tammy. “We need universal healthcare now. There is no reason why in the richest country we should suffer—or worse, die—simply because we lack the funds for the care we need.”
In Vermont, the Vermont Workers’ Center led a 200-person Medicaid March in St. Johnsbury in Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom region. The march is part of the Workers’ Center’s growing presence in the Northeast Kingdom and its statewide push to protect and expand Medicaid.

Read more: For more photos, videos, and on-the-ground the reports from Harrisburg, St. Johnsbury, and Washington, check out Put People First! PA’s and the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Facebook pages.

Medicaid Organizing

At the same time as the “Medicare for All” movement for universal, publicly financed healthcare grows across the country, our existing publicly financed healthcare systems are under attack. The Veterans Administration is being threatened by privatization, and poor and working-class people who rely on Medicaid are facing a systematic assault. Eighteen state governments are currently pursuing “work requirements” and other measures designed to push people off of Medicaid, and several states’ proposals have already been approved. Billed as an effort to incentivize supposedly lazy people to work, these measures are in fact the continuation of a decades-old effort to shrink public programs by blaming poor people for structural poverty, and doing so in a way that creates mistrust and division between communities by labeling Black people, immigrants, and poor and working-class women as undeserving. (For more on this history, see NESRI’s recent report, A New Social Contract, at right.)

In Maine, though voters voted 2-to-1 in November to expand Medicaid, Governor Paul LePage is refusing to implement the expansion and is simultaneously seeking federal permission to impose work requirements, asset disqualifications, premiums, co-pays, lockout periods, and burdensome paperwork requirements in order to push people off of Medicaid and make it difficult for new people to enroll. The Southern Maine Workers’ Center is fighting back. As Maine Equal Justice Partners prepares a lawsuit to challenge the validity of LePage’s proposal in court, the Workers’ Center will be organizing Medicaid enrollees, their families, and allies to resist the attacks and build power to win an expanded, more robust Medicaid program for poor and working people in Maine.

In Pennsylvania, Put People First! PA is raising a nonviolent Medicaid Army hold power-holders accountable to defending and protecting Medicaid. PPF-PA is also working with allies to demand that the State reinstate adult dental benefits, which it stripped from Medicaid through an administrative decision in 2011. As PPF member Tammy Rojas said in her speech in Harrisburg, “We will no longer accept the lie that our teeth are a separate part of our body and have nothing to do with our overall health. … We need a comprehensive adult dental benefit in Medicaid now.”

Read more: Put People First! PA published a Statement on Attacks on Medicaid and SNAP and Erie, Pennsylvania, resident Colten Osborne shared a personal testimony, “What work requirements for SNAP and Medicaid would mean for me.”

Movement Building with Our Allies

While many of our members marched on Washington with the Poor People’s Campaign on June 23, Tammy Rojas and Laile Wilson from PPF-PA and Ben Palmquist from NESRI traveled to Minneapolis for the Single Payer Strategy Conference, where they joined allies from Healthcare NOW!, the Labor Campaign for Single PayerNational Nurses United, and many other organizations. Tammy, Laile, and Ben teamed up with PNHP New York Metro, the Campaign for New York Health, and Democratic Socialists of America to present two workshops on strategies for building a multiracial, feminist, pro-immigrant, pro-poor movement for universal healthcare. Ben also facilitated a panel on building deep, strategic partnerships between labor and community organizations. He was joined by speakers from PNHP New York Metro, the California Nurses AssociationHealth Care for All OregonUE, and the Workers’ Education Society.

In Portland, Maine, the Southern Maine Workers’ Center is helping lead a campaign to push the city to require employers to provide paid sick days to Portland workers. The effort bridges the Workers’ Center’s Healthcare Is a Human Right and Work with Dignity campaigns, and is bringing the Workers’ Center into coalition with Equality MaineMaine State Nurses AssociationMaineTransNetMaine Women’s LobbyPortland OutrightSouthern Maine Democratic Socialists of America, and the South Sudanese Community Association of Maine.

Meanwhile the Vermont Workers’ Center has been working in solidarity with nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC), the state’s largest employer, who are organizing through the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals to implement safe staffing ratios as well as living wages and safe working conditions for nurses and all hospital employees. In June, 94% of voting UVMMC nurses elected to authorize a strike if necessary when their contract is up on July 9th. As the Workers’ Center recently reported, “Hospital management, however, is so far refusing to budge – despite running $38 million over budget last year and paying $10.7 million to their top 15 executives alone.”

Read more:  Notes from the Single Payer Strategy Conference are available on the conference’s wiki site.

December 2016

In this post:

Now hiring:

New Resources:

Here are new resources from the HCHR Collaborative:

  • Report on healthcare in Pennsylvania: In November, Put People First! PA and NESRI published a new report, Beyond Coverage: Putting People First in Pennsylvania’s Healthcare System. The report draws combines data from over 300 surveys with Pennsylvania residents’ stories and human rights framing to reveal how the state’s healthcare system is failing people today and to share a vision for winning a healthcare system that meets everyone’s needs.
  • Analysis of the coming Republican attacks on healthcare: Read NESRI’s analysis of what to expect for the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare and the rest of the healthcare system.
  • Fresh analysis on our new Media page: For the latest writing from our members, media coverage, and our videos and other media, check out our new Media page on our website. New pieces include op-eds on the insurance rate increases from Val Kater of PPF-PA and Ben Palmquist of NESRI as well as Ben’s commentary on price gouging and profiteering by medical giants Mylan and Aetna.
  • Talking points on insurance rate hikes: Though the long-term future of the ACA marketplaces is uncertain, in the short term, millions of people will see their premiums increase dramatically on January 1. Read Put People First! PA’s and NESRI’s talking points on how for-profit insurance is driving the market turmoil and the 22% average nationwide insurance rate increase.

Here are some new resources from our allies:

  • A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice: If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to look at The Movement for Black Lives’ powerful vision and policy platform for realizing human rights and collective liberation by centering the needs of Black communities. The Invest-Divest section of the platform includes a set of of policy demands for “real, meaningful, and equitable universal health care.” NESRI separately contributed to policy demands on land use, tax policy, budgets and trade.
  • Resources on the coming attack on healthcare: The Consumers Union has posted a collection of analyses from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Commonwealth Fund, Center for American Progress, and other pro-ACA think tanks on what repeal and other Republican proposals could mean.
  • Standing Rock study guide: Want to know more about the struggle at Standing Rock? The Kairos Center put together a helpful report and study guide.

HCHR Collaborative statement on healthcare organizing in the Trump era

Following the election of Donald Trump and the change of power in the Senate, Republican leaders are in position to push forward with a sweeping overhaul of the healthcare system. Though they have not yet publicly announced the specific policies they will push, it is clear that the party leadership will pursue an extreme ideological agenda that will have the effect of limiting people’s access to healthcare, driving up healthcare costs for millions, increasing income inequality and financial insecurity, deepening false racial divisions to enormous effect and expanding corporate profits and power over people’s lives.

This extremist, anti-human agenda can be traced through at least nine healthcare plans that Republican leaders and conservative think tanks have released over the last four years. These plans include a blueprint issued by House Speaker Paul Ryan this past summer and legislation introduced last year by Representative Tom Price, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Price’s bill was passed by Congress and vetoed by President Obama.)

Though the plans differ on some policy specifics, there is clear alignment on sweeping privatization and draconian cuts of our public health programs—Medicare, Medicaid, ACA subsidies, and veteran and military healthcare plans—that would force higher healthcare costs on the elderly, the poor, and people with serious medical conditions.

Let us be clear: by revoking people’s access to care, these extremist cuts and privatization will kill tens of thousands of people every year. As people who are directly impacted by healthcare, racial, economic, and gender injustices, we, the members of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative, stand committed not just to defending against these attacks on our health, but to bringing the diverse communities that are most excluded from the healthcare system into the center of healthcare policy and the healthcare justice movement.

This is both a moral imperative and a strategic one. Racism and xenophobia were central to Donald Trump’s campaign, and using race to pit poor and working class communities against each other has always been central to the strategy to beat back social protections and just, equitable economic policies in the United States. By conjuring the perception that an undeserving group of “others” (most often an implicit reference to Black and Brown people) will benefit from any government program at someone else’s expense, extremists and healthcare profiteers have created an imagined sense of scarcity and stoked divisions, mistrust, and false competition. This is an intentional political effort to open up room for profiteering by the insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital industries by masking the fact that a universal, publicly financed system of healthcare would help everyone who struggles to afford care in the privatized insurance system, including communities of color and white communities alike.

The only way to win a healthcare system that works for us all is to build a system that works for those who are most excluded. To do that, we must listen to and follow the leadership of most impacted communities; intentionally and perpetually challenge racism, exploitation, and all forms of oppression; and introduce a new logic built not on competition or narrowly defined “efficiency,” but by putting human beings, human needs, and human rights at the center of all policies and practices. More specifically, we pledge to:

  • Refuse to compromise on people’s health and dignity by fighting tirelessly for a healthcare system that puts human rights and human health ahead of private profits and ideology.
  • Always support the leadership of people who are most impacted by healthcare injustices and by intersecting racial, economic, gender, ableist, and other injustices.
  • Support people through the coming attacks on healthcare and communities, including Muslims, immigrants, and all poor and working class communities.
  • Deepen and broaden our alliances and strategic partnerships with our fellow organizations in the struggle for human rights and dignity.

In solidarity,
The Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative

Campaign updates:

HCHR Collaborative

Back in July, the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative held our annual convening in Portland, Maine, where we were hosted by the members of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center. Dozens of us came together to build relationships and learn from each other across states, and we were pleased to be joined by allies from Healthcare NOW! and SPAN Ohio. We explored three major areas of our campaign work together: charting out medium-term campaign goals on the road toward our long-term goal of winning universal, publicly financed healthcare; developing better organizational structures to facilitate democratic leadership, transparency, accountability and communication across our statewide organizations; and developing leadership across lines of difference such as race, age, gender, and urban and rural areas.

As the new year approaches, we are looking forward to joining many of our allies from across the country at the Single Payer Strategy Conference in January, where we will lead a workshop on coalition building between unions, single payer groups, and base-building organizations like ours. Please join us!


The last six months have been busy ones for Put People First! PA. In July, members celebrated a big victory by winning a nine-month campaign to pressure the Pennsylvania Insurance Department (PID) to host a public hearing on insurance rate increases for 2017. Over two dozen PPF-PA members turned out to the hearing to testify, sharing heart-rending stories about being denied care, facing treatment delays, and being hit with thousands of dollars in bills they cannot afford. The hearing was a show of PPF-PA’s power, but the state’s healthcare system remains far more responsive to insurance companies than to the people of the state. In October the PID announced it was permitting insurance companies to raise people’s insurance rates on individual plans by a stunning average of 32.5%, significantly more than what insurers requested.

PPF-PA members led three big actions in recent months against insurance giant Independence Blue Cross (IBX): a demonstration during the Democratic National Convention, a Halloween #TrickNotTreat action in collaboration with Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP), and a November protest against the insurance rate hikes.

PPF’s members have also been organizing locally across the state. Over 80 members came together in Harrisburg in October for their annual Membership Assembly, the York Organizing Committee hosted a community healthcare forum, the new Southwest PA Organizing Committee in Pittsburgh hosted a human rights town hall meeting on healthcare, and the Base Building, Media & Communications and Campaign Teams all held strategy retreats.

Amidst this all, PPF-PA has welcomed Carla Christopher and Ben Fiorillo on as part-time organizers in Central and Southwestern PA, and has said goodbye to Southeast PA organizer Sheila Quintana. PPF-PA is currently hiring a new Southeast PA organizer.

To find out more, be sure to check out PPF-PA’s recent biannual newsletter, published members of the Media & Communications Team, and PPF-PA’s and NESRI’s new report, Beyond Coverage: Putting People First in Pennsylvania’s Healthcare System.


The Southern Maine Workers’ Center (SMWC) has been hosted a string of events in recent months. In August as part of our HCHR Collaborative convening, SMWC hosted a public event, More than Just Health Care: Stories About Building a National Movement for Human Rights, featuring leaders from SMWC, PPF-PA, VWC, and NESRI who shared personal stories about why human rights organizing has transformed their lives. In the fall, members of SMWC’s new Lewiston Chapter came together for both a member lunch and an orientation. And following the election, SMWC’s Work with Dignity campaign meeting drew an incredible 95 people!

Behind the scenes, the campaign has been busy. Ronald Flannery joined SMWC as the HCHR organizer over the summer, and is working with members to reach out to people in the areas of Southern Maine that have been hardest hit by austerity. SMWC has been deepening ties and developing plans with the Maine State Nurses Association and Maine AllCare through the Maine Health Care Is a Human Right Coalition. Members, with support from NESRI, are analyzing data from over 1,300 healthcare surveys and beginning to outline an upcoming report. And earlier this month 25 leaders and board members came together for SMWC’s annual leadership retreat to evaluate, strategize and dream.


The Vermont Workers’ Center is reinvigorating member leadership on multiple fronts. In November, dozens of members came together in Barre from all corners of the state for the Workers’ Center’s annual membership assembly. At the assembly, members voted to charter county-wide chapters and to create a new team of member-coordinators to hold key pieces of work. Members have also developed a new healthcare organizing tool asking people about their hopes and fears around healthcare, and have been using the tool in canvassing in Windham, Windsor, and Chittenden counties. A team of people is also are gearing up to host healthcare screening clinics in the new year.

The HCHR campaign has also been working in support of nursing assistants, unit secretaries, and mental health technicians at the University of Vermont Medical Center, Vermont’s largest hospital. These healthcare workers play a vital role in the healthcare system, but are understaffed, overworked and underpaid. The workers are in the process of forming a union, and are seeking to get the hospital to enter into collective bargaining with them. VWC has been organizing solidarity support for the workers, including turning out members to a hospital board meeting earlier this month.


News from our allies

Single Payer Strategy Conference

Our friends at Healthcare-NOW, the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, National Nurses United and Progressive Democrats of America are organizing this conference January 13th-15th in New York City, and we’ll be there to meet people and to lead a workshop on building strategic partnerships between single payer groups, unions, and base-building organizations like ours.

Campaign for Guaranteed Healthcare

NESRI and PPF-PA attended a post-election strategy meeting in Washington, DC, hosted by the organizers of the Single Payer Strategy Conference and the AFL-CIO. The organizations that attended the meeting are forming a new coalition, the Campaign for Guaranteed Healthcare, to push proactively for universal, publicly financed, Medicare-for-All healthcare.


Colorado voted down a constitutional amendment that would have created a universal, publicly financed healthcare system in Colorado. A startling 79% of voters voted against the ballot measure.

Healthcare justice organizers around the country are drawing many lessons from the defeat. As the bill’s backers point out, an estimated $10 million of industry and Koch brothers money was funneled into Colorado to defeat the proposition (mirroring the $100 million spent by drug companies to defeat a California proposition that would have limited drug prices).

Others have pointed out that the campaign initially adopted problematic anti-government rhetoric that adopted the language of its opponents rather than advancing a positive vision for a just, democratic society; the legislation called for an inequitable flat tax that made the campaign vulnerable to the prevailing anti-tax rhetoric; some unions and women’s organizations opposed the bill because they were not brought to the table as partners early on in the coalition-building and legislative drafting process; and the campaign put its faith in a broad but shallow paid-canvasser strategy that succeeded in winning tens of thousands of signatures and hundreds of thousands of votes but was ultimately unable to organizing a mass base of people and a coalition that were deep, broad and committed enough to overcome such a hugely powerful opposition.

HCHR Collaborative

The Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative will gather in Portland, Maine, August 5th through 7th for a convening hosted by the Southern Maine Workers’ Center (SMWC). This year’s meeting will include a public event with SMWC’s local allies as well as strategy discussions and learning sessions on building multi-racial (and multi-generational and otherwise diverse) organizations and movements, shorter-term campaigns en route to universal healthcare, statewide organizing and strategic planning. In a time marked by police shootings of Black people, economic anxiety, xenophobia and other enormous challenges, the convening will also serve as a space for Collaborative members to support one another and to reflect on the role of Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns in intersectional movements for human rights and social, economic and racial justice.


In April, Ben Palmquist from NESRI represented the Collaborative at two talks. He spoke with Zakiya Sankara-Jabar from Racial Justice NOW! and Larry Bresler from Organize! Ohio on a panel hosted by the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center on grassroots human rights movements in the United States, and at the annual meeting of the Single Payer Action Network Ohio.

Put People First! PA and NESRI participated in a strategy meeting in June focused on assessing the power of the insurance, hospital and pharmaceutical industries and exploring concrete ideas for how movement organizations and policy advocates can advance the human right to healthcare, particularly on the state level, now that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Many of the ideas discussed in the meeting are presented in a strategy paper published by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut earlier this year. The paper was authored by Richard Kirsch, Director of Our Story – The Hub for American Narratives and a Senior Fellow and Advisor with the Roosevelt Institute, USAction and the WhyNot Initiative.


After eight months of organizing efforts, Put People First! Pennsylvania is celebrating a big victory! PPF-PA won a public hearing on health insurance rate increases, the first ever such hearing in the state of Pennsylvania. Insurance companies are requesting to raise premiums by an average of up to 45% on some plans, and by as much as 154% in the most extreme cases.

The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance has scheduled the rate hearing on July 27th in Harrisburg. The hearing was called by the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance after PPF-PA met with Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller and members of her staff, delivered over 500 signatures to the Department’s headquarters, organized a call-in day, mobilized partners and allies, and rallied people to share their stories on Facebook and Twitter. The hearing is an opportunity for Pennsylvania residents to speak out about how insurance rate hikes impact their lives, and to demand greater transparency and public participation in decisions on insurance rates in Pennsylvania.


With the hearing less than two weeks away, PPF-PA is encouraging people to sign up to deliver testimony to the Department in writing or, better yet, in person at the hearing. If you live in Pennsylvania or know anyone who does, please fill out the registration form to testify or to help out with preparations and transportation.

In other news, PPF-PA’s Base Building Team ran three events in June: a membership drive in Philadelphia, tabling at Spectrum Health Services Community Health Fair in West Philly, and a leadership retreat and vigil in Johnstown. The vigil honored the life of Marie Funk, who passed away last year after she was belatedly diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer after being delayed and denied care by for-profit healthcare provider Senior LIFE.

For the second year in a row, members of PPF-PA volunteered at the Mission of Mercy free dental clinic in June. In addition to helping out with the clinic, they spoke with many people who have had trouble accessing healthcare and collected 43 surveys documenting people’s healthcare experiences. The 43 surveys are part of the organization’s second round of survey collection. PPF-PA is preparing to release a report based on the first 300 surveys it collected across two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s counties last year, and is simultaneously aiming to collect 500 more surveys by the end of this year.

During the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia July 25th through 28th, PPF-PA will be joining with medical students and other allies to demonstrate for the human right to healthcare.

Finally, PPF-PA is happy to welcome two new organizers to their team: Carla Christopher, the new Central PA field organizer, and Ben Fiorillo, the Southwest PA organizer.


This spring, the Southern Maine Workers’ Center joined with allies in Portland to oppose the closure of the city’s India Street Public Health Clinic, a vital public health center that offers free, low-barrier healthcare to some of the city’s communities with the greatest healthcare needs and the most limited access, including low-income people, members of the LGBTQ+ community, those living with addiction and those who are HIV+. The clinic came under threat in April when the City proposed a plan to defund the facility and transfer patients to a privately run facility, following a destructive trend towards the privatization of public goods. SMWC responded to the City’s proposal with a statement criticizing the lack of transparency and participation in deciding on budget priorities, and stressing how the plan threatens the health of many community members. Led by the clinic’s patients and volunteers, SMWC came together with other local organizations and community members to build a powerful movement protesting the city’s budget, organizing a large rally, gathering over 1,600 petition signatures and presenting testimony at public hearings. They won a partial victory by pushing city officials to compromise on their timeline, but many parts of the plan will move ahead.

SMWC Save India Street

SMWC also held two Healthcare Is a Human Right workshops this spring. The first meeting focused on raising awareness of classism in human rights movements and developing organizing strategies that unify across class. Part of an ongoing process at SMWC to integrate class analysis in their work, the discussion-driven session helped participants recognize the underlying assumptions about poor people and poverty that often characterize existing narratives and presented a critical look at the social “safety net”. In June, the second HCHR workshop featured professional storyteller Elise Pepple, who shared how storytelling can be a powerful tool for conveying messages, transforming communities and building solidarity around the movement for publicly financed healthcare.

SMWC members are now preparing to host the HCHR Collaborative convening, and are also analyzing data from surveys they’ve collected over the past three years in preparation for publishing a report. The surveys asked about people’s experiences with healthcare and evaluated support for a publicly-funded healthcare system. SMWC has also hired a new HCHR organizer, Ron Flannery.




The Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) is organizing to stop high increases in insurance premiums requested by MVP Healthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield Vermont, the two health insurance corporations selling insurance plans on the state exchange. The companies have requested average rate hikes of 8.2% and 8.8%, respectively. The Workers’ Center has set up an online form to collect testimony about how rate hikes affect people’s ability to get the care they need, and will submit responses as public comments to the Green Mountain Care Board, the governing agency. VWC is also organizing people to attend the hearings on July 20th and 21st in Montpelier to share their stories in person. If you live in Vermont or know anyone who does, please fill out the form or contact the Workers’ Center.



Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland has been exploring a new area of campaign work, the privatization of Medicaid. Maryland, like many other states, has increasingly outsourced administration of Medicaid to private insurance corporations, prioritizing an ideologically, profit-driven agenda over the health of people enrolled in the program. HCHR-Maryland is talking to people who are enrolled in Medicaid, talking to activists in other states who have campaigned against Medicaid privatization, and connecting with allies in Maryland who share a commitment to ensuring that Maryland delivers quality, comprehensive healthcare as a public good through the state’s Medicaid program.

HCHR Collaborative

Members from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative have been speaking out in a powerful series of statements on what it means to organize a people’s movement that is grounded in human rights and that actively works to dismantle racism and other systems of oppression. Many of the pieces were a direct response to racist, anti-immigrant narratives that Donald Trump and others are spreading, narratives that promote hate by abusing very real fears and struggles that so many people in the U.S. are facing in an economy designed to concentrate profits instead of meeting human needs.

  • Answering This Moment: Poor White Folks & Organizing in Maine“: Drawing on their family’s struggles as poor white people, a member of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center takes a powerful stand against racist narratives blaming refugees and people of color for poor white communities’ very real struggles, and challenges white organizers in particular to build trust in poor white communities by getting to know people not from a place of judgment, but with humility, empathy and “a practice that seeks to move and be moved, on all sides.” They close by posing ten strategic question for our movements.
  • Rejecting racism and uniting for our human rights“: In an op-ed widely published in Vermont papers, Vermont Workers’ Center member Avery Book reflects on the struggles of poor and working class people like his father, and concludes, “we must reject the divide and conquer rhetoric, and come together all across Vermont to fight against the billionaire class for a Vermont and world where every person’s human rights are met and we all can thrive.”
  • Refuge, Reason and Resolve“: In response to alarming hostility to refugees from Syria in her home state, Put People First! Pennsylvania member Nijmie Dzurinko honors the severe struggles that poor and working class people in Pennsylvania are facing, and says, “We have to ask ourselves, are the Syrian refugees the source of these problems? … The only way to get what we need is to stop blaming each other and come together. By doing this, we can begin to understand how we got here and what we need to do to change it.”
  • 11-hchrworkshopOrganizing Our Whole Selves”: VWC member Jonathan Kissam and PPF-PA member Karim Sariahmed reflect on the strategic questions posed by the organizers of the Single Payer Strategy Conference in the fall, and argue that to win universal, publicly financed health care, we need to project a big-picture moral vision, we need to build relationships, and we need to organize whole people.
  • Bernie Sanders can talk universal health care, but we have to make it happen”: In response to renewed national attention to universal, publicly financed health care brought by Bernie Sanders’ run for president, NESRI’s Ben Palmquist argues that the only way to win is by building a people’s movement with a bold moral vision—a movement led by thousands upon thousands of deeply engaged, organized, and politicized grassroots leaders.
  • Statement of solidarity from the Southern Maine Workers’ Center: “At SMWC, we believe in the value and importance of racial justice organizing that is multi-faceted, multi-racial, and that makes a direct call to white people to participate in dismantling white supremacy. There are moments in our lives when we must declare ourselves on the side of racial justice, on the side of human rights… But conversations and invitations are not enough. We must also be pushing for solutions from power-holders.”
  • Statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter: In case you missed it, in late 2014 the Vermont Workers’ Center and its partners in the Vermont Human Rights Council issued this statement of support for Black Lives Matter.


The Southern Maine Workers’ Center’s new Springvale Organizing Committee is continuing to establish itself and build its presence in York County. The Organizing Committee is planning its first potluck and story share event this month.


Since launching its Healthcare Is a Human Right survey in December, SMWC has already collected 400 surveys, well on its way to its goal of 1,000. SMWC members launched the survey in December by fanning out to seven coffee shops in ten different towns to survey people, and on February 20th members will be heading to public libraries around the state for a campaign event called “Book It to 1,000 Stories.” The event is part of SMWC’s push to meet its 1,000-survey goal before the summer, when it plans to produce a human rights report on health care in the state. Please share the online survey link with anyone you know in Maine.

SMWC is also strengthening its partnerships with other organizations in the state. At the January 30th HCHR member meeting, the members met with Portland Needle Exchange to strategize together on how to organize with folks who are experiencing addiction, and with the partners who serve them. The meeting was part of a new strategy to use member meetings as a way to build relationships and develop strategic partnerships with other organizations. SMWC is also teaming up with Maine AllCare to lead a workshop at this year’s Maine Quality Counts Conference on the power of storytelling and surveying in developing health care reform strategies and solutions.


Put People First! Pennsylvania (PPF-PA) hosted a weekend-long strategy retreat in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania to make plans for 2016. Members from of all of PPF-PA’s working teams and local organizing committees attended the retreat along with partners from NESRI and the Kairos Center. Through a series of meetings and planning sessions, the group set goals and timelines for the year, tackled strategic questions across teams, deepened its commitment to grassroots fundraising, and studied economic structures and historical struggles for justice to inform the HCHR campaign.


PPF-PA has submitted comments to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department requesting that the Department hold public hearings and take a number of other steps to bring transparency, accountability and public participation to the process by which the Department approves insurance premium increases each year. The Department approved premium increases of up to 27% for this year. The premium increases were based on requests made by insurance companies, but the Department did not hold any public hearings or offer the public meaningful way to participate in the process.

In the months ahead, PPF-PA will be hiring new organizers in Central and Southwestern Pennsylvania, building out organizing committees, rolling out new base building strategies, advancing its leadership development and leadership across difference projects, meeting with legislators, producing a report, launching a new round of its health care survey and more.


The Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) is using a new survey to connect with people around the state. The survey asks people about health care, their experiences in the workplace and encounters with discrimination. Early findings are revealing that people in Vermont are still struggling to access their health care, and that people’s health care struggles are tied up with low pay, lack of respect on the job, and the high cost of housing.

VWC is working with its allies on the Vermont Human Rights Council to build towards a second People’s Convention and Just Transition Assembly April 30 – May 1. The convention will bring together hundreds of people to discuss how to align efforts and build towards a common vision for human rights and ecological stewardship in Vermont. The Vermont convention is one of a series of conventions happening around the country. VWC partners and allies from other states are encouraged to attend.

This Friday, the VWC will be supporting a black-led day of events at the State House to mark Black Lives Matter Day, which Vermont is recognizing on February 12 by proclamation of the governor.

Organizing Our Whole Selves:

Reflections on the 2015 Single Payer Strategy Conference

by Jonathan Kissam and Karim Sariahmed

November 30, 2015

At the end of October, we traveled with four other people from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative to Chicago for the Single Payer Strategy Conference. The conference, hosted jointly by Healthcare NOW!, Labor Campaign for Single Payer and One Payer States, was an exciting gathering of organizers from all over the country, working to build a movement for universal, publicly financed healthcare.

Every year, America’s profit-driven healthcare system prevents millions of people from getting the care that they need, while generating fabulous profits for a small class of stockholders.  Transforming our healthcare system into one that recognizes and meets the human right to health for all people will require a mass social movement, HCHR workshopone that can overcome opposition from the powerful private health insurance companies, other corporations and institutions which profit and benefit from the existing system, and their ideological allies in both major political parties who are committed to small government and the supremacy of the “free market.”

How can we build this movement? This year’s Single Payer Strategy Conference was structured around five framing questions that challenged everyone to think strategically about what it means to build a movement, how we build with other movements, how we organize around the Affordable Care Act and move beyond it, how we move toward victory in our states and nationally, and how we can concretely confront inequities along lines of race, class, gender, and immigration status. These are all critical questions, and questions we take deeply to heart in our Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns.

To build a broad-based movement and connect strategically with other movements, we need to project a big-picture moral vision, we need to build relationships, and we need to organize whole people.

A moral vision, rooted in deeply held human values, can capture the imagination of millions of people, become a new “common sense,” and thereby change what is politically possible. Many people at the conference made a connection between the civil rights movement and the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. Though the civil rights movement did not specifically demand Medicare and Medicaid, it established a moral authority that shifted the entire political landscape, opening up new political possibilities. Within this space, people rose up in motion around all kinds of issues, organizing against the war, for women’s rights, for environmental protection, for LGBTQ liberation, for the rights of people with disabilities, and for the rights of indigenous peoples. That is what we need to recreate.

We also need to build relationships across movements. We need to use our moral vision to connect our fight for health care with fights for Black lives, a living wage, immigration reform, trans liberation, and public school funding, but we can’t simply provide transactional support for one another’s campaigns. We have to build trust and develop real relationships with each other across movements, and we also have to be really intentional about making sure that our campaigns and organizations are truly diverse and inclusive and elevate the leadership of people of color, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, poor and working class folks, people with disabilities, and people of all ages. We do this through our base building, our leadership development, our political education, and all other areas of our campaigns. The hard work of engaging in this way is not a distraction: it is central to the work of movements, and is the only way to win a health care system that serves all people equitably and protects the most vulnerable.

When we organize, we also need to organize whole people, allowing and encouraging one another to bring our whole selves into the movement. Only by creating space for us to transform ourselves can our movements stimulate the broader transformation of institutions and social relations that is needed to win universal, publicly financed healthcare. Successful movements tap into our shared humanity and guide us together in common cause. The work that helps us be together is both the means and the end. When we are meaningfully united across difference, we win.

Our workshop on the Healthcare Is a Human Right model at the conference modeled our commitment to a moral vision, building relationships that challenge and nurture us, supporting each other’s leadership, and organizing whole people. We collaboratively planned and facilitated the workshop, brought our whole selves into the room through stories and poetry, and enabled everyone in the room to actively engage and contribute through storytelling in pairs and through small group discussions.

We win, as the conference organizers say, when we build a movement. By bringing people together to build relationships and dig into critical strategy questions, the Single Payer Strategy Conference serves a hugely important role in this process. Let’s keep building a moral case for transforming the healthcare system, keep building relationships with each other and with people in other movements, keep elevating the leadership of people who are most impacted by injustices, and keep bringing our whole selves into this fight.

Jonathan Kissam is a member of the Vermont Workers’ Center and Karim Sariahmed is a member of Put People First! Pennsylvania. They tweet at @domesticleft and @sariahmed.


News Bulletin

November 2015

In this newsletter:

Campaign news:

News from our allies:

Calendar of events
Health news


HCHR Collaborative 

Six representatives of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative attended the Single Payer Strategy Conference at the end of October in Chicago. Together they ran a participatory Healthcare Is a Human Right workshop, presented on two panels, and connected with allies from around the country who are organizing in their own states for universal, publicly financed healthcare.

The conference was organized by Collaborative allies Healthcare-NOW!, Labor Campaign for Single Payer, and One Payer States, and centered around five strategy questions that asked how we build a social movement, how we organize around specific aspects of the Affordable Care Act, how we move state and national campaigns to victory, and how we concretely confront inequities in our work.

The Collaborative’s Healthcare Is a Human Right workshop modeled the HCHR campaign’s participatory, human-rights-based approach to organizing. The six facilitators—three members from Put People First! Pennsylvania (PPF-PA), two from the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC), and one person from NESRI—spoke to how the ingredients of the HCHR campaign model intentionally and strategically address the challenges raised in the conference’s strategy questions. Participants broke into small groups to actively engage in exploring one of the HCHR campaign ingredients. The groups focused on base building, leadership development and political education, and the human rights framework, and were a space for participants to ask questions, share ideas, and engage with others in the room.


Keith Brunner from the Vermont Workers’ Center also spoke to the full conference on lessons from Vermont, and Jonathan Kissam from VWC  and Ben Palmquist from NESRI spoke on a panel about the importance of making sure healthcare for injured and ill workers, which currently operates under states’ workers’ comp systems, is part of our policy vision for universal healthcare. Ben also presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, speaking on the importance of situating healthcare policy within a broad economic and social rights framework that puts human needs at the center of all policies, and that includes democratic modes of governance that respect and elevate the knowledge and leadership of people who are impacted by injustices.

On November 10, Cathy Albisa from NESRI and James Haslam from Collaborative ally Rights & Democracy (and formerly from VWC) also spoke about the HCHR campaigns on a panel at the Buffalo Human Rights Center in Buffalo, New York.


The Southern Maine Workers’ Center (SMWC) has been working hard all fall building out its campaign strategy and its base.

SMWC and the HCHR campaign are welcoming a new organizing committee. Residents of York County have formed the new Springvale/Sanford Organizing Committee, and are planning their first outreach event to connect with neighbors

In late September, SMWC held its annual leadership retreat, bringing together members of the Workers’ Center’s HCHR and Work with Dignity campaigns. At the retreat some 30 leaders reflected on and celebrated the organization’s accomplishments over the last year, developed new goals for the coming year, and built unity and trust within the organization. This graphic shares some of SMWC’s key accomplishments in 2015 (click for a full-size version):


On November 7, members gathered for a monthly HCHR meeting to look at preliminary data they’ve collected through surveys and discuss how everyone can participate in crafting a report next year. The report will illustrate Maine’s healthcare crisis through survey data and people’s stories, and will talk about why Maine needs a healthcare system founded in human rights principles that truly meets everyone’s needs.


Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland is strengthening its county chapters and reaching out to new people at community events. The Carroll County chapter ran a booth at the annual FallFest, the Frederick County chapter surveyed nearly 100 people about the affordability of care at the county’s yearly Health Fair, and the Howard County Chapter tabled at the 50+ Expo. At the Expo, HCHR-MD members spoke with aging adults who are worried that Medicare won’t cover all their health needs, forcing them to try to come up with money to pay for supplementary private insurance to cover the gaps. In Anne Arundel county, the campaign is hearing a great deal from people about their struggles to get dental care, and is beginning to research dental policy to look for strategic intervention points to expand access to care.

In December, HCHR-MD will debut their Healthcare Leadership School to advance the organization’s political understanding of healthcare policy and how these policies affect people’s lives.


Put People First! Pennsylvania’s Southwest Philadelphia Organizing Committee hosted a Human Rights Town Hall last tonight. Residents of Southwest Philly, joined by neighbors from around Philadelphia and the state, shared their healthcare stories, spoke out about their struggles, and shared their vision for Pennsylvania’s healthcare system. The event also featured free support for enrolling in ACA insurance plans and free blood sugar and blood pressure screenings.

The Town Hall came on the heels of the recently announced insurance rate hikes of as much as 27%, which the State of Pennsylvania approved without any meaningful public input. Last night members discussed the rate hikes and shared results from over 300 surveys that they have collected in Southwest Philly and across the state. Preliminary survey results illustrate how seriously the denial of healthcare is affecting people’s lives and how overwhelmingly people would like to see a fundamentally different approach to healthcare in Pennsylvania:


The Town Hall followed PPF-PA’s annual Membership Assembly in York, PA, in September. Dozens of PPF-PA members from around the state convened in York, and were joined by allies from Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign-MD, the Fight for Drivers Licenses, Kairos: the Center for Religion, Rights and Social Justice, the Media Mobilizing Project, NESRI, the Pennsylvania Association of Nurses and Staff Professionals, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and Planned Parenthood. Everyone who attended built relationships, developed a shared political understanding, and discussed campaign strategies and tactics in the HCHR campaign and in PPF-PA’s related Fayette Health Justice Campaign.


The Fayette campaign centers around SCI Fayette prison, which was built on a toxic coal ash dump that is poisoning people who are incarcerated, prison workers, and people who live in the surrounding community. PPF-PA is teaming up with environmental justice organizations and other allies on the campaign, and is focusing on organizing in Philadelphia with people who were formerly incarcerated at Fayette and the families of people who are currently imprisoned.

On October 1, three PPF-PA attended a Pennsylvania Insurance Department hearing on “surprise billing,” which is when a person receives a bill that they weren’t expecting after getting medical care that they believed was covered by their insurance. PPF-PA member Nijmie Dzurinko testified about a surprise medical bill she got, and explained how surprise billing is rooted in the deeper problem of a private insurance system that treats healthcare as a commodity rather than as a human right.

The Media & Communications Team also published a new edition of PPF-PA’s newsletter. Download a copy to read more about the Fayette Health Justice Campaign, what PPF-PA has learned about base building, and the organization’s Leadership Across Difference Project to develop leaders who can bring communities together across race and other lines of division.


Following a year of transitions in Vermont politics and within its own organization, members and staff of the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) have spent the summer and fall coming together to strengthen the organization and its base.

For the first time in its history, the VWC hosted four regional membership assemblies across the state, convening members in different regions to evaluate the previous year, discuss organizational priorities and chart out a path towards deepening membership involvement in the organization.

Following the assemblies, members of the VWC leadership bodies met in October for a Leadership Retreat where they developed a draft campaign plan for 2016 and made plans to engage the full membership in the plan at this Saturday’s Annual Membership Assembly. At the Assembly, members will join together to discuss and decide on the organization’s campaign plans for 2016, elect members to the Coordinating Committee, and celebrate the Workers’ Center’s 17th year with an annual dinner open to the public.

Meanwhile, on Halloween, fifteen members and staff ran in a road race for one of the VWC’s most successful fundraising drives ever, raising over $15,000 from over three hundred individual donors.

And since late October, members of the Addison County organizing committee have been organizing in solidarity with nurses and other workers at Porter Hospital in Middlebury, who are facing the loss of their healthcare access after the hospital announced it intended to cut healthcare benefits for all part-time employees. Watch this video created by the VWC’s Peoples’ Media Project documenting how a community delegation attempting to deliver 1,000 petition signatures was locked out and ignored by the hospital administration.


News from our allies

Colorado activists put universal, publicly financed healthcare on the ballot

Organizers in Colorado delivered over 150,000 signatures to the Secretary of State last month, putting an initiative on the November 2016 ballot that will let voters decide on whether to enact the country’s first universal, publicly financed healthcare system. The plan is not perfect: it could be financed more equitably, eliminate co-pays, include dental care and long-term care, and establish more robust mechanisms to ensure accountability to people’s right to healthcare. And because of federal law, states are not allowed to ban private insurers or create a truly unified publicly financed system. Nevertheless, the initiative would create a publicly financed healthcare system that would guarantee comprehensive healthcare to all residents of the state regardless of immigration status, marking a dramatic shift from a private insurance system toward a system that treats healthcare as a public good. It is far too soon to say, however, what the prospects are for the initiative to pass. Ballot initiatives can be a tool for democratic control and a way to circumvent recalcitrant legislatures, but they are also vulnerable to influence by powerful monied interests, which predictably employ anti-government, anti-taxation rhetoric to scare voters out of supporting important public policies. Just as everyone has been watching Vermont’s fight to win universal, publicly financed healthcare, people all over the country will now be watching Colorado as well.


News Bulletin

September 2015

In this newsletter:

Campaign news:

News from our allies:

Calendar of events
Health news


HCHR Collaborative 

After years of collaboration, this week our five organizations—Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, Put People First! Pennsylvania, Southern Maine Workers’ Center, and the Vermont Workers’ Center—are coming together to officially launch the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative. The Collaborative will enable us to better coordinate our work and connect nationally with our allies in the larger movements for universal healthcare, racial and economic justice, and human rights.

Today, September 1, 2015, at 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific we’re hosting an online discussion of our campaigns and our collective work, during which we’ll respond to questions from the audience (sign up to join the discussion here). We’re also launching a new website,, which features a Resource Library and Campaign Kit offering over 200 campaign resources.

screenshot of Campaign Kit screenshot of Resource Library
In June, the member organizations of the Collaborative gathered in Philadelphia for two days of learning, relationship building, and strategy sessions on the key areas of our campaigns: base building, leadership development, the human rights framework, media and communications, policy advocacy, and movement building.

Collaborative convening


The Southern Maine Workers’ Center (SMWC) has spent the summer solidifying its base in Portland and reaching out into surrounding counties. On Saturday, SMWC teamed up with fellow grassroots organization—the New Mainers Public Health Initiative, Neighborhood Housing League, and Maine lewistonImmigrant & Refugee Services—to host the first Human Rights & Health Fair in Lewiston. The fair focused on the human rights to healthcare, education, and housing—all issues that directly impact Lewiston residents’ quality of life on a regular basis—and featured a soccer tournament, food, arts and crafts, music, a storytelling booth, and a free health clinic with basic screenings and testing for HIV and Hepatitis-C. Speakers addressed human rights concerns in the community, and included local middle school students who recently completed a month-long human rights organizing project with Cait Vaughan, SWMC’s HCHR organizer. “The fair was a great opportunity to celebrate the hard work of grassroots community members and build relationships for the long-haul organizing fights ahead,” says Cait.

Members of the HCHR campaign marched in the Portland Pride parade in June, connecting the human right to healthcare with LGBTQ liberation and with the fight for racial justice. On July 30, SMWC teamed up with the Maine State Nurses Association and Maine All Care for a rally, musical performance, and pie eating contest to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid and to call for universal, publicly financed healthcare to include everyone.

Looking ahead, in late September SMWC’s HCHR leadership team will hold its bi-annual retreat. The team will evaluate the campaign’s progress, set new campaign goals, and do a workshop to strengthen facilitation skills amongst the leadership.

Finally, SMWC’s Ali Mann has produced a video from one of the HCHR campaign’s potlucks and story shares. “This is an organizing tool that we’re spreading throughout our membership,” explains Cait, “as a way to bring new people into the campaign and build a movement that is about relationships, community, and caring for each other.”

Our Stories, Our Strength: Healthcare is a Human Right potluck & story share from Ali Mann on Vimeo.


Amy WoodrumHealthcare Is a Human Right-Maryland (HCHR-MD) has hired Amy Woodrum, a resident of Annapolis, as its new campaign organizer. Amy became a member of HCHR-MD after getting involved in the campaign as a student at the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Baltimore. Before that, she worked as a proofreader at the Legislative Research Commission in her native Kentucky. It was there, says Amy, that she gained an understanding of and interest in how policies impact and shape people’s lives. As someone who was born with a hearing impairment, she has struggled to get the care she needs from the healthcare system, and is excited to connect with others in the campaign for a healthcare system that meets everyone’s needs. In the months to come, Amy will focus on building the HCHR campaign’s base by strengthening county committees, working with leaders to support their growth in the campaign, and developing a healthcare curriculum for a statewide leadership school. Welcome, Amy!

Read more about Amy’s story in the HCHR campaign’s report, “Voices of Maryland’s Healthcare Crisis and the Rising Human Rights Movement.”


At the end of May, Put People First! Pennsylvania (PPF-PA) members traveled together to Harrisburg to attend the free Mission of Mercy Dental Clinic. Some members were able to get needed dental care that they hadn’t been able to afford, and others spoke with people attending the clinic, listening to their healthcare stories and piloting a new survey that Put People First developed with support from NESRI. The survey is now in full swing. If you are a Pennsylvania resident, please share your healthcare experience by taking the survey online and sharing it with anyone you know in Pennsylvania.

In June, PPF-PA hosted the members of the HCHR Collaborative for a two-day convening including two special events organized but Put People First members: a meet-and-greet barbecue for members of the different HCRH campaigns to get to know one another, and a strategic dialogue with some of PPF-PA’s key allies in Pennsylvania. The entire convening was hosted by the Pennsylvania Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, and allies attending the dialogue included the Brotherhood as well as Media Mobilizing Project, the Faculty and Staff Federation of Community College of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals, 15Now, and Healthcare 4 All PA.


PPF-PA has also been working with allies on a campaign connecting people whose lives have been impacted by mass incarceration, environmental injustice and racial and economic inequities. In the southwestern corner of the state, toxic coal ash from mining operations is leaking into the local water supply and poisoning thousands of people, including inmates of the SCI Fayette prison, prison workers and residents of the surrounding communities. PPF-PA is working with Philadelphia residents who have been incarcerated at SCI Fayette and family members of people who are incarcerated, connecting them with the communities surrounding the prison and supporting them in advocating for their loved ones and protecting their human right to health. In August, several PPF-PA members from Southeastern Pennsylvania travelled to Fayette and neighboring counties to investigate and meet with people. Read an account of the visit from Bahjah, a PPF-PA member in Southwest Philadelphia whose son is in SCI Fayette, and a story from Richard, a PPF-PA member in Philadelphia who recounts the health problems he suffered during his time at Fayette.


This summer the Vermont Workers’ Center is holding regional assemblies as part of a collective process to assess the successes and challenges of its groundbreaking Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign.


The campaign continues to highlight the unsustainability and inequity of the current healthcare system by exposing the high cost of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. In an Op-Ed published in four major outlets across the state, the Workers’ Center’s Kate Kanelstein wrote, “We risk missing the forest for the trees if we don’t acknowledge that the roots of the flawed [Vermont Health Connect insurance exchange] rollout lie in fact in the market-based approach of the Affordable Care Act, with its insurance industry-guided design, complete with tiers of coverage and eligibility restrictions. Rather than ushering in a new era of treating healthcare as a right and a public good for all, the ACA has enshrined a fundamentally unjust market-based system with different and unequal insurance products, different and unequal prices for health services, and different and unequal access to care.”

Following an 8.6% average rate increase proposed by Blue Cross Blue Shield for next year’s health exchange plans, the campaign turned out dozens of members to a public hearing to speak out against the cost increases. Yet the insurance regulator agreed to a rate increase—albeit lower at 5.9%—and the campaign released a statement, which was picked up by local radio and newspaper outlets, that condemned the regulator’s failure to promote equitable access to healthcare.

The campaign has also been working in solidarity with allies, organizing community support for the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the nurses’ union at the University of Vermont Medical Center. The Workers’ Center brought community delegations to the
hospital’s board of trustees meeting and rallied outside of the medical center, helping the healthcare workers win a favorable contract.

Internally, the Vermont Workers’ Center has set up a new leadership structure following the transition of James Haslam, the Workers’ Center’s long-time Executive Director, to start a new allied organization called Rights and Democracy. Rights and Democracy is a 501(c)4 lobbying organization that will work to get candidates elected who support universal, publicly financed healthcare and other policies meeting the needs of the people of Vermont. Veteran Vermont Workers’ Center organizers Kate Kanelstein, Megan Sheehan and Matt McGrath have stepped into the organization’s leadership. Working together as a team of co-directors, they are guiding the organization into its next phase. At the Workers’ Center going away party for James on August 29th, many members and leaders came to wish him well on the next leg of his work even as he and the Workers’ Center look forward to continuing their close collaboration.

News from our allies

Campaign for New York Health celebrates a victory 

The Campaign for New York Health celebrated an important victory in June when it pushed the New York State Assembly to pass the New York Health Act, a bill for a universal, publicly financed healthcare system that would be paid for through equitable taxation and would ensure all residents of New York access to needed care regardless of their ability to pay, immigration status or any other factors. Though the bill did not pass the Senate, its passage in the Assembly was an important symbolic win that signaled widespread support for universal healthcare and the growing strength of the Campaign. The bill had been introduced to the Assembly in years past, but, as In These Times reports, some major unions stepped up to endorse the bill for the first time this year, a sign of a growing coalition behind universal healthcare.

Medicare & Medicaid anniversary actions 

July 30 marked the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, two critical public healthcare programs. To mark the occasion, activists organized dozens of events all over the country. Healthcare NOW!, National Nurses United (NNU), and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) were among the lead organizers. The events included a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, where Senator Bernie Sanders joined NNU and pledged to fight for a universal healthcare system that treats healthcare as a right, and a rally in Portland, Maine, co-organized by the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, Maine State Nurses Association and Maine All Care.

Reporting on the events, Common Dreams highlighted the origins of these public healthcare programs and how significant they are for advancing equity. Ellen Schwartz, President of the Vermont Workers’ Center, was quoted saying, “It is urgent that we continue organizing for the right to healthcare by fighting efforts to roll back or privatize Medicare and joining with movements around the country to establish a publicly-financed healthcare system that includes all people.”

Dr. Claudia Fegan, a past president of PNHP, was quoted emphasizing how critical public programs are to ensure racial and socioeconomic equity. “One of the most profound but under-appreciated contributions of Medicare to the well-being of our society,” said Fegan, “has been its role in reducing racial disparities in healthcare. As soon as it was enacted, Medicare began to close the gap between Black and White Americans aged 65 and older in access to care and in medical outcomes.” Fegan emphasized that achieving an equitable health system that provides high-quality healthcare to everyone regardless of race or socioeconomic status is an unfinished task, and one of the most important reasons to move from a market-based model to a universal, publicly financed healthcare system.


News Bulletin

May 2015

Healthcare Is a Human Right is a people’s movement organizing state by state to win universal, publicly financed health care and build a society that puts people’s needs ahead of profits. This is a monthly newsletter from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign Collaborative (formed by the campaigns in Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, as well as NESRI).


The Vermont Workers’ Center’s held two big public actions in the last month to push for public health care financing by indicting the inequities of the market-based insurance system. On Tax Day, members marched on the headquarters of Blue Cross Blue Shield, presenting the company with an invoice for $15.7 million in taxes it avoided by claiming nonprofit status. Reverend Earl Kooperkamp expressed outrage that BCBS is paying Wall Street salaries and contributing nothing into state coffers while people are struggling with rising health care costs and loss of public services due to revenue shortfalls. The Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign’s bill has called for dissolving BCBS and transferring its assets, liabilities and obligations to the independent Green Mountain Care Board.

As the legislative session nears its end, it is proving to be the most bruising in recent years. Universal health care financing failed to move forward – with the exception of a study for universal primary care – and politicians’ austerity agenda will harm people’s access to public programs and services, while ignoring legally mandated, human rights-based budget requirements. In a May Day op-ed, VWC’s James Haslam gave voice to people’s growing outrage and called for reclaiming our democracy and standing together in solidarity to fight for our rights.

On May Day, Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign members were joined by many hundreds of people from Vermont’s labor, racial justice, climate justice, disability rights and migrant justice movements, marching on the Statehouse in Montpelier, singing inside the building and concluding with a rally on the Statehouse steps. They denounced Vermont’s political leadership for its failure to equitably address the health care crisis and revenue shortfall. Ellen Schwartz, president of the Vermont Workers’ Center, said: “We’re deeply disillusioned by the failure of those in the Statehouse to address the healthcare crisis by transitioning to an equitable, publicly financed healthcare system as laid out in Act 48 — we’re here today because we see that the hope lies in grassroots social movements and solidarity.”

In a Huffington Post piece, reflecting on the challenge of “turning a market commodity into a public good, and dismantling an entire industry along the way,” Anja Rudiger echoed Ellen’s sentiment. “The people’s movement for our right to health, both in the form of Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns in Vermont, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, and in vibrant variations in many other states, is continuing the struggle, guided by Dr. King’s reminder that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’”


The Southern Maine Workers’ Center is expanding its base around the state. On May 16, as part of the process of developing its first organizing committee outside of Portland, SMWC is holding a Healthcare Is a Human Right training in Androscoggin County. Other outreach events are planned for more than a dozen different towns in five counties, including several events with Unitarian Universalist churches, which are partnering with SMWC to host speaking engagements, story shares, and survey gathering trainings. Nurses from the Maine State Nurses’ Association and officials from the DownEast AIDS Network are also partnering with SMWC to run a series of free clinics this summer.

At the same time as it expands its base outward, SMWC has been strengthening its membership within. Six core members are stepping up to form a new leadership team for the HCHR campaign, taking on responsibility for developing campaign strategy and messaging, organizing events, and performing outreach. “This is an exciting capacity-building moment for us,” says SMWC and HCHR leader Cait Vaughan. “Members who are deeply involved in the campaign are moving further into the center of the work, and we’re continuing to democratize this journey toward health care as a human right in Maine.” Other members have been stepping up to lead SMWC’s Media and Political Education Committees. Both committees held their first meetings in March. SMWC also teamed up with allies to host a talk in Portland by Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and launched a new website.

While legislative advocacy is not a focus at this stage of the campaign development, SMWC, Maine AllCare and the Maine AFL-CIO shared public testimony at the State House on a study bill and a universal health care bill, including a human rights amendment. Neither bill received majority support this session.


In recent weeks, the entire country has watched as Baltimore residents have expressed outrage over the police killing of Freddie Gray and the underlying injustices of poverty and systemic racism. Members of United Workers and Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland have been speaking out and organizing in the city’s most affected neighborhoods. United Workers and Free Your Voice youth leader Destiny Watford recoded a video expressing her anger at the media’s dehumanizing representation of protesters and their failure to ask “deeper root questions that get at the deeper issues of what’s going on.” United Workers released a statement calling for action “to address the systemic racism and poverty that has plagued the City for 40 years and get below the surface of this evolving and troubling crisis in our city.” UW leaders have called in press and radio interviews for concerted action to address the housing and jobs crisis in communities most affected by racial and economic justice.

NESRI published an article on the “structural looting” of the Black working class, reflecting on the gross social and economic inequities and injustices facing low-income Black communities in Baltimore and across the country. The article builds off a reflection on inequities and human rights abuses facing Black workers that was published last Labor Day.

At the end of May, Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland will hold a leadership meeting to plan campaign strategy.


Put People First! Pennsylvania is pushing forward with multiple projects. PPF-PA has joined the Pennsylvania Coalition on Oral Health, which aims to ensure that dental benefits are available to everyone as part of Medicaid and Medicare. This would be a step toward PPF-PA’s goal of making dental care an essential health benefit for all in a universal health care system. PPF-PA is incorporating oral health into its digital storytelling and into a new upcoming statewide survey. PPF-PA has also been strengthening its alliances and solidarity with other organizations and movements in Pennsylvania. PPF-PA members Nijmie Dzurinko and Karim Sariahmed spoke at two recent low-wage worker actions in Philadelphia.

At the same time as it builds out its Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign externally, PPF-PA is also strengthening its internal leadership structure. The Media and Communications Team and the Base Building Team both held retreats in recent weeks for study, strategy, planning and team building, and members have formed a new Political Education Team. PPF-PA is also launching a new campaign advisory board, which will bring together active PPF-PA members from different regions of the state with team members, staff, and the members of the coordinating council to help coordinate and guide the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign. In June, the advisory board will expand to include members of partner organizations. PPF-PA also held its first ever Organizing Institute, where members explored facilitation, doing effective one on ones and using our stories for organizing.

On June 24 and 25, PPF-PA will host Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign Collaborative partners from Maine, Maryland, Vermont, and NESRI in Philadelphia. The HCHR convening will bring together members and staff to advance campaign strategy, leadership development, political education and media production, as well as to support PPF-PA through a solidarity action or event. Stay tuned for more details.

News from our allies

Campaign for New York Health: People from all over New York rallied at the State Capitol in Albany on May 5 to support the New York Health Act, a bill to create a universal, publicly financed health care system for the state. The bill has been endorsed by dozens of labor and community organizations as well as more than 90 state legislators. It will be brought to the State Assembly for a vote, where it is expected to pass. The bill is not expected to clear the State Senate.

The Walk for Rural Hospitals: Some 283 rural hospitals are at risk of being closed because of insufficient financing. The community of Belhaven, North Carolina, saw its hospital close last year, and is now organizing a walk to Washington, DC, to raise awareness about this developing crisis. The walk will start in Belhaven on June 1 and will arrive in Washington on June 13. Allies from around the country are invited.

Sign up for this newsletter

July 16, Portland, ME: SMWC data entry party for survey data

July 20-21, Montpelier, VT: VWC members to testify at Vermont’s public hearings on insurance rate increases

July 25, 10am, Philadelphia: PPF joins allies in protesting at the Democratic National Convention

July 27, Harrisburg, PA: PPF members to testify at Pennsylvania’s public hearing on insurance rate increases

August 5-7, Portland, ME: SMWC hosts the HCHR Collaborative for a convening

February 12, Montpelier, Vermont: VWC supports a black-led Black Lives Matter event at the State House

February 17, Pennsylvania: Statewide PPF-PA membership call

February 20, Maine: SMWC “Book It to 1,000 Stories” survey outreach at public library

February 26, Philadelphia: Open meeting in North Philadelphia

March 12, Portland, Maine: SMWC Annual Meeting & Celebration

April 30 – May 1, Montpelier, Vermont: VWC and the Vermont Human Rights Council host the second People’s Convention and Just Transition Assembly

  • December 3, Baltimore: HCHR-MD’s Baltimore Chapter hosts a film screening
  • December 5, Maine: SMWC launches an online survey and tables in coffee shops in several towns around the state
  • December 10: Human Rights Day
  • November 14, Barre, VT: VWC’s annual General Membership Assembly & Celebration dinner
  • November 16, York, PA: PPF-PA York membership meeting
  • November 16, Ellicott City, MD: HCHR-MD’s Howard County Chapter screens The Healthcare Movie
  • November 18, Pennsylvania: PPF-PA statewide membership call
  • December 3, Baltimore: HCHR-MD’s Baltimore Chapter hosts a film screening
  • December 5, Maine: SMWC launches an online survey and tables in coffee shops in several towns around the state
  • December 10: Human Rights Day
  • August 31: Our new website,, goes live
  • August 31, York, PA: PPF-PA York membership meeting
  • September 1, 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific: Inaugural HCHR Collaborative webinar (RSVP)
  • September 2, Philadelphia: PPF-PA Philadelphia general membership meeting
  • September 7, Burlington, VT: Vermont Workers’ Center Labor Day Celebration
  • September 19-20, York, PA: Put People First! PA Annual Membership Assembly
  • September 20, Gorham, ME: SMWC HCHR leadership team retreat
  • October 30 – November 1, Chicago: HCHR Collaborative presents at the Single Payer Strategy Conference hosted by Healthcare NOW!, Labor for Single Payer & One Payer States
  • November 2, Chicago: NESRI presents “An Economic and Social Rights Platform for Health and Human Dignity” at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting
  • May 15, Lewiston, ME: Lewiston-Auburn Area Healthcare Is a Human Right Workshop
  • May 29 – 31, New York City: Left Forum, where Put People First! PA, the Vermont Workers’ Center and NESRI will present on HCHR campaigns and state-level universal health care financing
  • June 1 – 13, Belhaven, NC, to Washington, DC: March to save rural hospitals
  • June 4, Baltimore: National Conference for Worker Safety and Health, where NESRI, Labor for Single Payer, and other allies will discuss integration of workers’ compensation into universal, publicly financed health care
  • June 24 – 25, Philadelphia: Healthcare Is a Human Right cross-state campaign convergence!
  • July 30 – August 2, nationwide: Healthcare-NOW! and National Nurses United are helping to coordinate locally led regional actions to mark the 50th anniversary of Medicare

Health News

The future of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid hang in the balance

Congressional leaders have confirmed that they will use the budget reconciliation process to repeal the Affordable Care Act in January, and that they will give themselves more time (perhaps two more years) to come up with a replacement plan. They are also pledging privatization and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. For more on how all of this could play out and what plans Republicans can be expected to push, read NESRI’s review of the coming attacks on healthcare.

Under enormous lobbying, Congress passes 21st Century Cures Act to deregulate drug and device approval

In its final days in session, Congress passed a major healthcare bill that will reshape federal regulations of drugs and medical devices for years to come. The bill, the 21st Century Cures Act, was the culmination of two decades of work by drug companies and conservative think tanks and one of the most-lobbied for pieces of legislation in years: at least 1,455 lobbyists from companies, universities and other organizations lobbied Congress on the bill, spending some $200 million to get it passed.

Though the bill’s backers are touting it’s passage with a large bipartisan majority, the bill will allow drug corporations to make enormous profits by rushing medicines and medical devices to the market before they are adequately tested for safety, putting people’s lives at risk in order to open up enormous profit opportunities for corporations. Read the full story in a fantastic article by Trudy Lieberman at Health News Review.

Tom Price tapped to head HHS

President-Elect Donald Trump has chosen Georgia Congressman Tom Price as his nominee for the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price is known as a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He introduced H.R. 2300 to dismantle the ACA last year. Though it was vetoed by President Obama, under President Trump the bill will serve as a blueprint for the coming repeal. Price is a proponent of slashing funding for Medicare, Medicaid, and other social protection programs by granting tax cuts to the wealthy.

Premiums rising nationwide

Health insurance premiums are going up nationwide, with insurance corporations requesting to raise people’s premiums by hundreds of dollars a month in some areas. While federal law requires states to have “effective rate review programs,” there are virtually no requirements for transparency or public participation in this process, and states are left to decide what constitutes a reasonable rate increase. As a result, regulation varies greatly from one state to the next, as do insurance rates: a study by Citizen Action Wisconsin found that in states with more regulatory power, premiums are an average of $750 lower per person per year.

Insurance and hospital industry mergers continue

Insurance industry and hospital industry mergers continue to make healthcare coverage increasingly unaffordable as corporations in both industries seek to consolidate their market power at the expense of patients and the common good. Two major insurance companies, Cigna and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, are currently pushing to merge into the largest health insurance corporation in the country, pouring millions of dollars into lobbying efforts and engaging in highly suspicious corporate meddling to tip the review process in their favor. Such mergers enable insurance corporations to drive up premiums and limit people’s access to care by imposing sky-high out-of-pocket costs and narrowing provider networks. At the same time, uneven and inadequate regulation of hospital mergers leaves many communities vulnerable to losing needed care when local facilities close or consolidate. Consumers Union offers a number of resources for opposing insurance mergers, and The MergerWatch Project offers a report on how hospital mergers affect communities, model legislation and state report cards grading states on how well their regulatory systems protect access to care and incorporate transparency and participation.

Wealthier people now consume more healthcare than poor people

A new study shows that the wealthiest fifth of Americans now consume 43% more healthcare than the poorest fifth, despite having fewer health problems. The study points to soaring premiums, deductibles and co-pays as key factors. While the wealthy can afford to pay these fees out of pocket, poor and middle-income people are increasingly forced to choose between going to the doctor and paying for rent or other essentials.

DNC votes down support for universal healthcare, proposes a public option

The Democratic National Committee voted down a proposed amendment to add universal, publicly financed healthcare as an official policy goal on its platform. Instead, the Committee stated that “Americans should be able to access public coverage through Medicare or a public option.” The policy details in the platform and in Hillary Clinton’s healthcare plan are sketchy, however, and National Nurses United, Healthcare NOW! and many others have criticized the turn away from universal, publicly financed healthcare, emphasizing that a unified public system is the only way to guarantee that healthcare is provided for everyone and treated as a right, not a privilege.

Vermont passes new legislation, sees major court cases

Vermont recently passed two healthcare bills—one promoting drug price transparency and one allowing dental therapists to operate—that have drawn national attention as model legislation. Meanwhile Governor Peter Shumlin will be stepping down from office, opening up a competitive race to replace him. Democratic candidate Matt Dunne has made publicly financed, universal healthcare a key part of his platform, while Democratic candidate Sue Minter and Republican candidate Phil Scott oppose reform. Vermont is also studying two possible options to expand healthcare access: the State published a report studying universal primary care in January, and this coming January will publish a report studying expanding the public Dr. Dynasaur program, which currently provides public health insurance to low-income young people, to include most Vermont residents up to 26 years old. And as Vermont’s current rate review process moves forward, the insurance company MVP Healthcare is suing the State of Vermont over last year’s rate review, challenging the State’s authority to regulate premiums. VWC issued a statement condemning the MVP lawsuit. Meanwhile the U.S. Supreme Court handed insurers a victory by ruling that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) protects self-funded insurance companies from having to share information about claims and member eligibility with the state of Vermont. The ruling may also affect 17 other states, which, like Vermont, maintain all-payer databases that help the state lower costs and improve effectiveness of healthcare, though the Court’s decision did indicate that the Secretary of Labor may be able to require insurers to report the data that Vermont needs.

Corporate spending to oppose universal healthcare in Colorado

We reported in February on the well-financed opposition campaign to Colorado’s ballot measure to create a universal, publicly financed healthcare system in the state, which Coloradans will vote on in November. Now the ColoradoCareYES campaign, which is backing the measure, reports that “the opposition group ‘Coloradans for Coloradans’ raised 99.94% of its funds from corporations in the most recent reporting period, with 84% of its funds coming from out-of-state interests. ColoradoCareYES, on the other hand, has relied almost entirely on individuals, with 99.69% of its contributions this year coming from individuals and 92% of the funds raised coming from Colorado.” ColoradoCareYES’s website features a list of major corporate donations to the anti-healthcare campaign, including $1.95 million from insurance giants Anthem, Kaiser Permanente and United Healthcare. Full campaign donation listings are available on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.

Sanders campaign puts universal health care back on the national agenda

Bernie Sanders’ proposal for “Medicaid for All” has put universal, publicly financed health care back on the national agenda, opening an opportunity for health care activists but generating a rain of opposition suggesting that such a proposal is too politically fraught, or falsely suggesting that providing universal health care as a public good would cost more than we pay now in the market-based insurance system. Not only would public financing for health care clearly protect health far better than the current market-based insurance system, but new analyses from PolitiFact, economist Gerald Friedman and Harvard and CUNY public health professors David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler (as well as last year’s letter of support from over 100 economists for universal health care in Vermont) explain why universal health care would be much cheaper than the private system.

California expands health care access for undocumented immigrants

California has taken two important steps toward removing the barriers that prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing needed health care. Forty-seven of the state’s 58 counties now provide basic preventative care for people without documentation. This follows a new state law passed last year that allows all low-income children 19 and younger to enroll in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, regardless of their immigration status. Importantly, both the county and the state programs have committed public money in order to finance these health care programs as public goods. While California still denies comprehensive care to all undocumented adults as well as to undocumented children whose parents’ income exceeds the Medi-Cal threshold, it could serve as a model for organizers and advocates in other states.

Civil rights groups request federal investigation of Medi-Cal for denying care through low reimbursement rates

A coalition of civil rights organizations has requested a federal investigation of Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, arguing that California’s inequitable, fragmented health care system discriminates against Latinos. While it is completely legal under U.S. law to discriminate against people for being poor, the law in theory protects us from discrimination based on our race or national origin. The advocates say that because Medi-Cal reimburses doctors at a far lower rate than other insurance programs, doctors are dropping out of the program, which effectively denies health care access to people in the program, nearly two-thirds of whom are Latino. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has six months to investigate.

Opposition lining up to defeat Colorado initiative

Opponents of universal health care are revealing their playbook in Colorado, where at least two new groups have been set up to defeat the initiative for statewide universal, publicly financed health care on the ballot in November. Advancing Colorado was set up last year with backing from the Koch brothers, and is leading a hard-line assault based in fear and market fanaticism. Coloradans for Coloradans was launched by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce in January, and is striking a softer tone, but also tells people they should be fearful of change, and completely misrepresents health care financing by focusing just on public taxation and completely ignoring that the private premiums that people and employers pay now would be eliminated by moving to public financing. Coloradans for Coloradans also cites Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s withdrawal of support for universal health care in arguing against the Colorado initiative, misrepresenting Shumlin’s politically motivated move to question the feasibility of universal health care at the state level even though more than 100 economists signed on last year to support universal health care in Vermont.

Health crisis reveals a crisis of democracy in Flint

Two years after lead began to show up in the water flowing into people’s homes in Flint, Michigan, public officials and the media are finally paying attention. The water crisis began after public officials sought to cut money from the public budget by switching the source of Flint’s water supply to the Flint River, which has been polluted by many decades of industrial waste. The river water corroded the city’s pipes, leaching lead into the water that flowed into people’s homes. Lead is a poison that harms the development of children’s brains even if it is consumed in miniscule quantities. The State of Michigan failure to protect Flint’s residents, who are mostly Black and mostly poor, reveals a democratic crisis in which people’s lives and health are tragically undervalued and in which people have no way to hold the government and private actors accountable to their human rights.

Florida purges 9,000 kids with illnesses and disabilities from health care

In a particularly appalling example of how austerity budgeting denies human rights, the State of Florida has pushed 9,000 poor kids, all of whom are sick or have a disability, out of a publicly financed health care program. The state capped spending on the program at an arbitrary amount, then pushed thousands of kids out of the program and fired 718 people in order to meet its budget numbers. This is the exact opposite of human rights budgeting, which begins by determining human needs and then raises the revenue needed to meet those needs. Don’t miss the Miami Herald’s powerful investigative report. The Herald’s review of hundreds of public records found that the purge, at a time when the state had a $635 million surplus and Governor Rick Scott was proposing $1 billion in tax cuts, was part of an ideologically driven plan to privatize the public health care program.

Half a million White people have “died from despair,” and Black people are affected even worse

A new study has found that since the early 1990s, half a million poor and working class middle-aged White people in the United States have been killed by suicide, alcohol and drug poisoning, and alcohol-related liver disease. As The Atlantic reports, these are diseases of despair. This is a crisis of epidemic proportions rooted in social and economic inequities, but it’s not only White people who are affected. In fact, despite the focus of The Atlantic, the New York Times, and other media outlets on White lives, the study reveals that Black lives continue to be lost to these diseases at much greater rates. And while these deaths have been rising in the United States, in other countries with universal, publicly financed healthcare and strong safety nets, the study finds, such deaths have been falling continuously for the last twenty-five years.

5,500% increase in drug price draws widespread condemnation

A company recently drew widespread condemnation for buying the rights to a 62-year-old drug and increasing the price per tablet from $13.50 to $750 overnight. Several years ago, each pill was priced at just $1. Patients rely on the drug, Daraprim, to treat an infection that commonly affects people whose immune systems have been compromised by AIDS and some forms of cancer. The company sparked moral outrage, but it was operating both legally and rationally within a capitalist system in which healthcare is treated as a profitable commodity rather than as a human right. In the past year, several state legislatures have considered “pharmaceutical cost transparency bills” that would require drug companies to justify the prices they charge for medications. The bills would be a step in the right direction, but while transparency is an important part of a human-rights-based healthcare system, the bills would still leave much power over people’s access to healthcare in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, and would do less to guarantee people’s access to medications than bulk purchasing, price controls, allowing imports, requiring drugs developed with public research funding be sold as generics, and other measures.

Mergers, collapse of coops and rate hikes highlight problems with the private insurance model

Three trends have developed this fall that illuminate structural problems with the private insurance model that remains under the Affordable Care Act. First, two planned mergers being considered by the Justice Department would consolidate control over the healthcare of 42% of the population in the hands of just three gargantuan insurance companies. The insurance industry mergers are mirrored by at least 78 hospital mergers so far this year and a similar “merger frenzy” among pharmacies and drug makers. In a related trend, a dozen nonprofit insurance “coops” have collapsed. The coops, which had offered insurance plans in many states, have been unable to compete against the insurance giants’ deep pockets and market power. And most recently, states have given insurance companies the green light to raise insurance premiums for publicly subsidized insurance plans by an average of 7.5% nationally and, for some plans, by more than 20%. At the same time, insurance companies are reporting that they will increase premiums on unsubsidized individual and small-group insurance plans by even more. The rate increases are all based on insurance companies’ profit motives, not on people’s ability to pay or their right to healthcare, and States have approved the increases with minimal transparency, participation and accountability.

Half a million White people have “died from despair,” and Black people are affected even worse

A new study has found that since the early 1990s, half a million poor and working class middle-aged White people in the United States have been killed by suicide, alcohol and drug poisoning, and alcohol-related liver disease. As The Atlantic reports, these are diseases of despair. This is a crisis of epidemic proportions rooted in social and economic inequities, but it’s not only White people who are affected. In fact, despite the focus of The Atlantic, the New York Times, and other media outlets on White lives, the study reveals that Black lives continue to be lost to these diseases at much greater rates. And while these deaths have been rising in the United States, in other countries with universal, publicly financed healthcare and strong safety nets, the study finds, such deaths have been falling continuously for the last twenty-five years.

5,500% increase in drug price draws widespread condemnation

A company recently drew widespread condemnation for buying the rights to a 62-year-old drug and increasing the price per tablet from $13.50 to $750 overnight. Several years ago, each pill was priced at just $1. Patients rely on the drug, Daraprim, to treat an infection that commonly affects people whose immune systems have been compromised by AIDS and some forms of cancer. The company sparked moral outrage, but it was operating both legally and rationally within a capitalist system in which healthcare is treated as a profitable commodity rather than as a human right. In the past year, several state legislatures have considered “pharmaceutical cost transparency bills” that would require drug companies to justify the prices they charge for medications. The bills would be a step in the right direction, but while transparency is an important part of a human-rights-based healthcare system, the bills would still leave much power over people’s access to healthcare in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, and would do less to guarantee people’s access to medications than bulk purchasing, price controls, allowing imports, requiring drugs developed with public research funding be sold as generics, and other measures.

Mergers, collapse of coops and rate hikes highlight problems with the private insurance model

Three trends have developed this fall that illuminate structural problems with the private insurance model that remains under the Affordable Care Act. First, two planned mergers being considered by the Justice Department would consolidate control over the healthcare of 42% of the population in the hands of just three gargantuan insurance companies. The insurance industry mergers are mirrored by at least 78 hospital mergers so far this year and a similar “merger frenzy” among pharmacies and drug makers. In a related trend, a dozen nonprofit insurance “coops” have collapsed. The coops, which had offered insurance plans in many states, have been unable to compete against the insurance giants’ deep pockets and market power. And most recently, states have given insurance companies the green light to raise insurance premiums for publicly subsidized insurance plans by an average of 7.5% nationally and, for some plans, by more than 20%. At the same time, insurance companies are reporting that they will increase premiums on unsubsidized individual and small-group insurance plans by even more. The rate increases are all based on insurance companies’ profit motives, not on people’s ability to pay or their right to healthcare, and States have approved the increases with minimal transparency, participation and accountability.

After King v. Burwell, insurance companies consolidate and premiums go up 

In the weeks since the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in King v. Burwell, insurance companies have responded to the court’s safeguarding of the ACA with what the New York Times called an “almost head-spinning” wave of corporate mergers. As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich points out, insurance companies have already seen their profits and worth balloon since the Affordable Care Act was passed; now the increasing consolidation of power in the hands of a few companies is likely to increase insurance premiums and put care further out of the reach of people who need it. The New York Times reports that insurance companies are already seeking rate increases of 20-40% for the coming year. Quoted in an article in Common Dreams, Cait Vaughan of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center explains that the Affordable Care Act model “is still a for-profit system that is not determined by our needs.” And as Kate Kanelstein of the Vermont Workers’ Center wrote in an Op-Ed, we need to move beyond the ACA because the interests of the entire insurance industry are fundamentally in conflict with the human right to healthcare.

International research is converging on progressive taxation as a key to achieving universal healthcare

Around the world, scholars and policymakers agree that universal healthcare is necessary for protecting people’s health. In 2012, for example, the UN General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution—co-sponsored by the U.S.—calling for countries to move toward universal healthcare systems. Now a new consensus among researchers is emerging that in order for universal healthcare systems to meet human health needs, they must be funded by progressive taxation. One recent longitudinal study of 89 countries found that “increasing general taxation financing was associated with increased health service coverage and improved financial protection.” The researchers found that “progressive tax revenues from profits, capital, and income are much more effective in generating public funds for health than are consumption taxes.”

States explore ways to expand and improve healthcare under federal law:

With King v. Burwell putting to rest concerns that states might lose federal healthcare subsidies, several states are now exploring how they might be able to expand and improve their healthcare systems under federal law. California recently passed a budget that included funding to expand Medicaid to all of the state’s low-income undocumented children; some 170,000 kids who had previously been denied full inclusion in the healthcare system will now become eligible. Several other states are considering applying to the federal government for ACA waivers (known as Section 1332 waivers), that will allow states to take measures beginning in 2017 to expand and improve healthcare access. It is this waiver that would allow Vermont to proceed with implementing its universal healthcare law. Yet even with such a waiver, federal law still puts barriers in the way of states who seek to establish a fully publicly financed system that provides the same healthcare services for all. That’s why U.S. Representative Jim McDermott has introduced a bill, H.R. 3241, that would remove many of the administrative and financial hurdles states face, making it easier for states to fully implement universal, publicly financed healthcare.

California considers expanding Medicaid to undocumented immigrants: The California Senate is considering a bill, the Health for All Act, that would use state funds to extend Medicaid to the state’s 1.4 million undocumented immigrants, who are currently denied access to Medicaid and the state’s health insurance exchange by the Affordable Care Act. The bill faces an uphill battle: responding to opponents’ austerity narratives, the Senate Appropriations Committee is putting the bill on hold to review it against pre-determined tax revenue calculations in the state budget. This approach to managing public money, which starts with revenue estimates before considering budgetary needs, is the opposite of human rights budgeting. Vermont’s Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign refuted this upside-down approach in its health care financing plan, which called for government to begin by determining health needs, and then equitably raise the tax revenue needed to meet these needs.

More and more U.S. women are dying in childbirth, especially in the South: The Washington Post reports that pregnant women are dying from childbirth at a rate higher than at any point in the last 25 years, and higher than 59 other countries. Of the 188 countries in a new study, the United States is just one of eight in which maternal mortality rates are increasing, and experts say that roughly half of women’s deaths are preventable. This growing problem is particularly acute in the South, where structural impoverishment leaves many women, particularly women of color, vulnerable to diseases like diabetes and hypertension that can cause complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and where lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid has denied health care access to millions of poor people.

States to have more leeway under the ACA, for better or for worse: The Commonwealth Fund has published a useful primer on “State Innovation Waivers” that will be allowed by the Affordable Care Act starting in 2017. Under Section 1332 of the Act, states will be able to request waivers from the federal government that will allow them to change how they manage health care benefits and subsidies, health insurance exchanges, and individual and employer insurance mandates. It is Section 1332 that would allow states to implement universal, publicly financed health care systems, but innovation waivers could alternatively be used, for example, to allow insurance companies to set deductibles at even higher rates than are allowed now, which would put access to health care out of the reach of many people with limited incomes and wealth.

Corporations spend 34 times as much as unions and public interest groups on lobbying: The Atlantic reports that corporations and their associations spend $2.6 billion a year on lobbying, 34 times as much as unions and public interest groups spend together, and more than the combined budgets of the U.S. Senate and House. The biggest companies have more than 100 lobbyists representing them in Washington, and of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 represent businesses. Health care companies are huge players. In 2003, for example, the pharmaceutical industry successfully lobbied to provide prescription drug insurance, Medicaid Part D, through a market-based approach that used public money to buy private pharmaceuticals but prohibited discounted bulk purchasing. A new study estimates that this policy has given pharmaceutical companies $205 billion in extra profits over 10 years.

World Social Forum statement on the right to health: An international group of organizations, social movements, trade unions and others who attended the World Social Forum in Tunis in April have released a statement on health and social protection that echos the five principles of the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns. The statement calls for universal health care and social protection systems that are publicly financed through progressive taxation, transparent and accountable to the public and that enable participation in decision-making. Kate Kanelstein and Anna Gebhardt of the Vermont Workers’ Center participated in the World Social Forum.