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HOMEHealthcare resourcesFinancial CrisisEconomicsFood & Agriculture

Vermont House passes single-payer healthcare bill

On March 24, 2011, in a 92 to 49 vote, the House in the Vermont legislature passed a bill to create a single-payer healthcare system in the state, reports the Associated Press. Vermont's Governor Peter Shumlin made creation of a state single-payer system a central theme of his gubernatorial campaign last year. The plan still has to pass the Vermont Senate, where it is expected to see a number of changes.

Governor Shumlin had pledged to make Vermont "the first state in the country to make the first substantive step to deliver a health care system where health care will be a right and not a privilege, where health care will follow the individual, not be a requirement of the employer, and where we'll have an affordable system that contains costs", reports the AP. Single-payer healthcare plans would resemble Medicare, where private physicians, clinics and hospitals would still provide the care, but would be paid for through a single government-affiliated payer, rather than by hundreds of differing health insurance plans.

"I think that we all know, and there was universal agreement on the House floor, that the current system will bankrupt us. Costs of health care in Vermont are going up $1 million a day. They are $2 billion more than they were 10 years ago. We have a problem, we need to solve it," argued House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, advocating for the single-payer bill, according to the Brattleboro Reformer. Many single-payer advocates are hopeful that if Vermont can establish a workable single-payer system, it will help other states, and eventually the nation, take a serious look at the single-payer alternative to our current costly for-profit health insurance system.

Dr. Steffie Woolhandler calls for Medicare for all in Mt. Holyoke speech

mp3 audio of Dr. Woolhandler's Nov. 18th speech (44 MB download)

In a fact- and chart-packed speech at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, November 18, 2009, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, delivered a compelling rationale for adopting a "Medicare for all" approach to American healthcare, often called a "single-payer" system. Under such a system, the 1500 private for-profit U.S. health insurance plans and companies would be replaced by a single, nonprofit, public or quasi-public healthcare financing agency. Healthcare would continue to be delivered, as now, through private doctors, clinics and hospitals, chosen by each patient. A single-payer system is used in Canada and many other developed countries, and typically costs much less than the American private health insurance system, with its high administrative costs, CEO salaries and profits.

A professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and co-author of Bleeding the Patient:The Consequences of Corporate Health Care, Dr. Woolhandler is one of the foremost advocates for a single-payer healthcare system in the U.S. To hear Dr. Woolhandler's November 18th Mt. Holyoke speech, click here (44 MB download).

Woolhandler started her talk with a lot of numbers and facts because, she said, "when you do look at the numbers and facts, it's quite clear that what's needed is a Medicare for all approach for the United States, and not what's [currently being offered] up there in Washington." She observed that our current healthcare system now left 46 million Americans uninsured, a number of uninsured that has more than doubled during the years she has been practicing medicine. The uninsured now also include twelve percent of non-elderly veterans in the U.S., as many veterans do not qualify for VA coverage, reported Woolhandler.

Sixty-two percent of American bankruptcies are now due to illness or medical bills, noted Woolhandler, and the majority of these bankrupted families started out with health insurance. But co-pays, insurance limits and insurance coverage gaps under private policies left many families bankrupt due to medical costs despite their health insurance.

The U.S. now has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, asserted Woolhandler -- at roughly twice the cost per capita of many other developed countries' healthcare systems. The number of U.S. health administrators, for example, has grown three thousand percent over the past several decades, she noted, with private health insurance companies now taking up to 20% of every healthcare dollar for adminstrative and overhead costs. This compares to about 3.5% in administrative costs for the current government-run Medicare system.

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Page last modified: 3/27/11