Health Care for All Town Hall

Vermonters from across the state — from Middlebury to Hartford — attended a Health Care for All Town Hall in Montpelier Thursday night, calling on lawmakers to continue moving forward on creating a universal health care system in Vermont.

Gathered inside the Montpelier High School auditorium, people told their personal stories about the importance of accessible, affordable, and available health care — recovering from addiction, being heard and supported medically in identifying as a transgender woman, being on Medicare because of age or disability, or being unable to afford crushing medical costs for life-saving procedures.

One by one, these Vermonters testified for the need for an health care system in Vermont that cares for everyone - no exceptions. A system in which everybody is in, and nobody is out.

Many spoke out in favor of the current legislation stalled in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that would provide universal primary care for every Vermonter.

The full video is embedded below, but you can also watch it here.

Individuals testified before a panel that included Dr. Deb Richter, a physician and longtime advocate for universal health care, Sen. Anthony Pollina, Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, who sits on the House Health Care Committee, Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, of Vermont Interfaith Action, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.

Gov. Phil Scott was invited but did not attend. A chair with the sign, "Reserved Gov. Phil Scott" remained on stage.

"I wish I could say the governor sent me here on his behalf, but unfortunately he didn’t," said Zuckerman.

The event occurred on the day that the GOP in Congress and President Donald Trump resurrected a health care bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"Despite the recent defeat of the disastrous Trump administration and House GOP health care bill a few weeks ago, Republicans are still committed to rolling back gains made under the ACA, destroying Medicaid, and eventually going after Medicare," noted Jessica Early, RN, a Rights & Democracy health care leader and emcee for the evening. "Just today they have renewed their efforts and resurrected the bill in an even more damaging form. The  leader of the House Freedom Caucus and the more moderate Tuesday Group came out with an amendment to the American Health Care Act that would allow states to waive key protections like essential health benefits and rules barring annual and lifetime insurance payment caps and higher charges for people with pre-existing conditions. Republicans in the House hope to vote on this new incarnation of the bill next week."

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GOP: Tax Cuts for the Rich, Health Care Cuts for Everyone Else

Rights & Democracy is joining health care advocates, doctors and people who depend on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for health care on tax day to release a joint report from Americans for Tax Fairness and Health Care for America Now (HCAN).

The report, Republican Health Care Repeal Plan: Tax Cuts for the Rich, Health Care Cuts for Everyone Else, details how the Republican plan to repeal the ACA would give billions in tax breaks to wealthy households, insurance companies and drug manufacturers, paid for by cutting the health care of low- and moderate-income families.

Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated this past weekend to demand that President Donald Trump release his tax returns from the last ten years and come clean with the American people about his income, financial holdings and whether he’s paying his fair share into the economy like the rest of us.

While the President has refused time and time again to disclose this basic information to the public, his actions have been loud and clear when it comes to his views on tax cuts for the rich and corporations.

President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan view repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the radical restructuring of Medicaid as the first step toward sweeping tax reform that would turn over trillions of dollars in tax cuts to the rich and corporations while average and low income American families lose health care and struggle to make ends meet.

In a recent interview with Fox Business Network, President Trump said: “We're going to have a phenomenal tax reform, but I have to do health care first. . . tax reform and the tax cuts are better if I can do health care first.”

Today, we’re releasing a report that explains how the Republican repeal plan doesn’t just cut healthcare for 24 million people and raise costs for million more, but also turns over $600 billion in tax breaks—money that currently funds health coverage for families—over the richest 1%, the insurance industry and prescription drug companies.

Join us this Thursday in Montpelier for a Health Care for All Town Hall where you can share your health care story, and ensure that Vermont continues to move forward on creating a universal health care system.

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We are also continuing to call on Gov. Phil Scott to speak out against the GOP's plan to gut Medicaid and Medicare and give tax breaks to the rich. Join thousands of Vermonters and sign the petition.

Repealing the ACA Cuts Health Care and Increases Costs:

  • About 21,000 people in Vermont have health care coverage thanks to the ACA. Not only will the Republican repeal bill wipe out those gains in coverage, but the GOP proposals increases costs even for those who will keep insurance.
  • Compiled data in the report shows that our of pocket costs like premiums, deductibles and co-pays in Vermont out of pocket costs will increase by an average of $3,239 for individuals who buy ACA coverage.
  • Costs for older people increase even more because the repeal bill will let insurance companies charge them more and at the same time reduces the tax credits they get to buy coverage.

Not only would many people pay more, but they will actually get less healthcare. That’s because the repeal bill lets insurance companies go back to charging people with pre-existing conditions more and waters down essential health benefits that come standard in policies now but would be optional for the insurers to provide under the repeal bill. Those essential benefits include prenatal and maternal care and mental health care.

The ACA bill cuts and radically changes Medicaid, which kids, seniors, people with disabilities and poor people depend on for health care:

  • Repealing the ACA also means effectively ending Medicaid expansion in 31 states, including Vermont which has covered 206,000 under Medicaid thanks to the ACA. But that’s not all. The GOP plan abolishes traditional Medicaid as we know it jeopardizing Medicaid even for those who had it before the ACA and shifting more burdens to states.
  • The bill cuts $880 billion from Medicaid over 10 years so that 14 million children, seniors and people with disabilities would no longer be able to get the care they needed.
  • Vermont would need to raise an additional $2 Billion over the next 10 years to maintain coverage for current enrollees, including 49% of Vermont children covered under Medicaid, not to mention the seniors, people with disabilities and poor residents who have no other source of health care.

These cuts in the ACA and Medicaid in the repeal bill are terrible news for families, providers, and state budgets but for not everyone will suffer under repeal.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest households, big health insurance companies and prescription drug manufacturers will be the beneficiaries of huge tax breaks thanks to Republican repeal.

  • The Republican repeal bill includes a large tax cut that only goes to families making more than $250,000 a year—the top 2%—while raising taxes on millions of low-and moderate-income Americans. Millionaires would each receive a tax cut of $50,000 a year, on average. The 400 richest families would each receive an annual tax cut of $7 million, on average.
  • Giant health insurers like Aetna, Cigna and United Health Group will get $145 billion in tax breaks over 10 years from the Republican plan, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. These big tax giveaways are on top of massive profits that the insurers have made on expanded coverage through ACA—the profits of the eight biggest insurance companies increased 32% from 2011 to 2015, rising from $19.1 billion to $25.3 billion.
  • The top five insurance companies would get almost $92 million in tax breaks for deducting their CEO’s pay on their company taxes.
  • Prescription drug companies will also get a big tax giveaway—$25 billion over 10 years—under the Republican repeal plan. That’s on top of making huge profits from gouging consumers: AARP research shows that the average cost of brand name drugs commonly used by older Americans for chronic conditions more than tripled between 2006 and 2015, climbing from $1,788 to $5,897.

On tax day, as many families pay their fair share towards critical programs that support the whole community, it’s time to evaluate who wins and who loses under the GOP proposal for health care repeal. The Republican repeal plan means big tax breaks for the rich and corporations, health care cuts for the rest of us.

(Top Photo: From our March Stand Up for Health Care event at the State House. Thousands of Vermonters have signed a petition asking Gov. Phil Scott to stand up against GOP plans to cut health care.)


Rights & Democracy Rallies for Milk with Dignity

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A 10-person delegation from Rights & Democracy joined Migrant Justice at the headquarters of ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry's to stand in solidarity with farm workers who are seeking human rights through the Milk with Dignity campaign.

After rallying with farm workers and members of Migrant Justice outside, the delegation walked inside and asked to meet with the company's CEO Jostein Solheim. The company's board of directors met for two days at Ben & Jerry's South Burlington headquarters, and were surprised by Migrant Justice and their allies with a two-day picket.

While Solheim wasn't available to talk to the RAD delegation, company spokesman Sean Greenwood did meet with the RAD delegation.

Here is the statement that RAD staffers Elise Greaves, Jeffrey Caesar, Adrian Burnett, and James Haslam read to Greenwood:

"We are representatives of Rights & Democracy, a grassroots organization with thousands of members in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Ben & Jerry's has a history of taking strong public positions in support of social and racial justice, and we are here today to call on the Board of Directors of Ben & Jerry's to respect the rights of farm workers and join the Milk With Dignity Program.

The time is long overdue for Ben & Jerry's to promote the human rights of the very farm workers who supply this iconic company with the milk it needs to make its ice cream."

In a brief conversation with Greenwood after reading the statement and providing him with copies, Caesar added: "Ben & Jerry's holds a unique position as a socially and environmentally responsible brand within Unilever. Ensuring fair labor standards to their farm workers sets a global precedent that other major corporations will take heed and follow."

During the two-day picket, many grassroots groups sent a delegation, including Vermont Workers' Center, Rural Vermont, Pride Center, Peace & Justice Center, Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, and more.

A major community rally and March for Human Rights is planned for May 1 in Burlington.

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Since 2010, Vermont dairy worker members of Migrant Justice have been educating Ben & Jerry’s about serious human rights violations in its supply chain.

In 2014, VT farmworkers called on Ben & Jerry’s to join a new program, modeled after and designed with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, to secure human rights for dairy workers. Only after public pressure, in June 2015, Ben & Jerry’s committed to “adopt Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program in its Northeast dairy supply chain.”

But two years have gone by and Ben & Jerry’s has still not signed onto or implemented the program. Dairy workers need our support to let Ben & Jerry’s know that we will not stand for further delays—human rights cannot wait and Ben & Jerry’s must fully join and implement the Milk with Dignity Program NOW!

Read RAD's statement on human rights and the current US immigration policies and practices.

Here is more info on Milk With Dignity campaign.

Here is a video about Milk With Dignity.

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No Human is Illegal

RAD_logo.jpegRAD was founded to hold governments and elected leaders accountable for making certain that all human beings are free to live with dignity.

We know that no human being can be “illegal,” and we oppose any Executive Order or action which limits the human rights of migrants, refugees, immigrants or other classes of people based upon religion, ethnicity or national origin. We will not succumb to the fear mongering the Trump administration wields  to intimidate the people of the United States of America.

We know that democracy is brave, fierce, and compassionate, and does not stand on fear of and hatred toward others.

A threat to one is a threat to all. Only in our diversity can we find our strength.

To that end, we affirm that together we will at every level:

  • Oppose actions that restrict immigrants from entering our country based upon nation of origin or religion
  • Organize people power in constructive ways to protect those refugees and immigrants within our borders
  • Organize protests to let the public know that human rights are being violated by this administration
  • Unite with other groups and people who share these beliefs
  • Oppose any and all elected officials who attempt to enforce discriminatory actions
  • Fight to keep any and all law enforcement — at the local, county, state and/or federal level — from participating in raids or enforcing bans on the people who are in the United States or entering the United States.
  • Provide independent and well organized community oversight of law enforcement action and policies with regard to bans, discrimination, and raids
  • Communicate strategically and effectively with the public

Pregnant Workers Deserve Fair Accommodations

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Sarah Hudson is a family physician, mother of three, co-founder of Doctors for Social Justice and member of Rights & Democracy

I am a family physician employed by the University of Vermont Medical Center. As part of my practice, I provide medical care for women during their pregnancies and deliveries, as well as ongoing primary care for those women, their partners, and their children.  I am also currently out on maternity leave myself, having just delivered my third child less than 2 months ago. 

As a physician employed by the largest healthcare organization in the state, I am in a position of privilege with regards to workplace accommodations. I have been blessed to have 3 very straight-forward, healthy and uncomplicated pregnancies. And yet, I can speak to the need for adjustments in employment practices, as the physical demands of growing another human being can make some aspects of working additionally taxing. I have seen many of my patients, in less privileged employment positions, struggle to decide whether they should take early leave from their employment because reasonable accommodations would not be made.

For example, I have one patient who worked in food service, and nearly lost her job because of her request to be moved to a different station (salad instead of carrying heavy hot tureens of soup). Because she had been hired too recently to be covered by FMLA for her maternity leave, she was forced to return to work at 4 weeks postpartum after a cesarian section (which is a major abdominal surgery), and even for that accommodation to be given she had colleagues who pooled and "donated" their CTO time to cover her job. A physician phone call to that organization's HR department was met with a very perfunctory "we can't do anything about that supervisor."

Another patient was asked to begin her maternity leave earlier than she'd intended, because they were "nervous" about her medical state. She had a completely uncomplicated pregnancy. Yet another patient in our practice was harassed by her employer for requesting "excessive" time away for her weekly antepartum visits at the end of her pregnancy, and was told that this time would count against her other weekly break time.

There are well documented studies showing that stress can contribute to adverse outcomes for mothers and babies. Although it could never be directly proven, I would not be surprised if the added stressors of unsupportive workplace environments contributed to the stalled labors, operative deliveries, and subsequent breastfeeding difficulties experienced by each of these women. These women thus lose access to valuable time off later with their newborn. I've seen the toll of such decisions- mothers who stop breastfeeding early, lose out on invaluable early bonding time with their infant, or in worst case scenarios lose their jobs and have to seek new employment while also tending to a newborn.

I often remind my patients (somewhat in jest), and I would like to remind you today in all seriousness, that pregnancy is NOT a disability. I've heard partisan arguments that this bill is not needed because pregnant Vermonters who are not given reasonable accommodation can just pursue justice under the ADA. However, although some pregnancy related complications would be covered under the ADA, a normal uncomplicated pregnancy is not.  H. 136 would provide a critical protection for pregnant women in our state, as a doctor and mother I support this bill, and hope all our legislators will as well.


Take Action Tuesday: Economic Justice in Vermont

Roads, the internet, power lines, libraries, schools, public safety, parks. Previous generations supported and built these important assets for us - collectively - in hopes of making our lives a little better.

How? Taxes.

On this week’s Take Action Tuesday Call (see call-in details below), RAD’s Lead Organizer Elise Greaves will be joined by Jill Charbonneau, past President of the Vermont State Labor Council AFL-CIO, and currently President of Vermont State Association of Letter Carriers AFL-CIO.

With a history of fighting for economic justice, Charbonneau will offer tips on how keep fighting even when forces seem aligned against you.

RAD knows that we cannot give into the fear of what might come down from Washington, DC— by either the Republican Congress or the Trump Administration—in terms of budget cuts. We know they’ll be bad, and some of our most vulnerable neighbors will suffer as a result.

That’s why we need to continue to press Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders to build a more just and resilient society in Vermont, and push for policies, and a state budget, that support:

  • A $15 minimum wage
  • Paid family and medical leave for all
  • Fair and just treatment of workers in the public and private sector
  • Universal health care
  • Economic development that creates clean jobs, supports climate justice and tackles climate change
  • Clean water and clean air
  • Reducing Vermont’s unnecessary prison population

Join us tomorrow night for the Take Action Tuesday!

Join by computer from 7 PM ET to 7:30 PM ET.

OR

Join the call by phone: (408) 638-0968 or (646) 558 8656 (US Toll)

    Meeting ID: 927 787 416

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Take Action on Racial Justice in Vermont

Call or email the House Judiciary Committee before Friday and let them know they need to vote H. 492, the racial justice reform bill, out of committee this week and to the House floor for a vote and onto the Senate to ensure passage before adjournment.

That was the takeaway from RAD's first Take Action Tuesday call with Mark Hughes of the Justice for All Coalition.

 

Lead Organizer Elise Greaves spoke with Hughes about the organization Justice For All, as well as the broad-based coalition that has been organizing around an historic piece of racial justice legislation, H. 492.The bill creates an unprecedented Racial Justice Oversight Board that will oversee the implementation of mitigating strategies to address implicit bias in state law and policy.

 

Here is the link to our full call (which we've posted to our YouTube channel), which includes an important slideshow.

 

 

The bill has been weakened with sections related to law enforcement, but Mark is hopeful that the bill can be improved and restored to its near original form in the Senate. Testimony concluded Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee, and RAD members are encouraged to email the House Judiciary Committee to vote it out of committee and onto a full vote by the House floor so that it can be taken up in the Senate.

 

You can also call the Sgt. at Arms office at (802) 828-2228 and leave a message for Committee members or find your legislator and send them a message to support H. 492.

 

Justice for All has an online petition supporting this legislation, along with key background information on how to join their organization, support its work, and take action on key legislation—locally throughout Vermont and in the State House.

 

You can also visit this page: The Racial Justice Reform Omnibus Bill for updates and calls to action.

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First Responders Deserve Mental Health Care. So Do All Vermonters.

The House Commerce Committee is currently considering H.197, a bill to allow firefighters and other first responders to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) covered by workers compensation.  This bill is a vital protection for Vermont’s volunteer and paid EMTs, police, and firefighters who are regularly exposed to extreme situations.  As a volunteer firefighter, I see these traumas regularly, and I have seen my first responder brethren struggle with it.  As a senior medical student, I also regularly bear witness to the mental health problems these traumas create for those saving the lives of others.  We should celebrate the introduction of this bill and thank Representative Copeland-Hanzas for it.

I am particularly pleased that H.197 not only allows my fellow firefighters to get the help they might need, but also extends mental health coverage to all Vermont workers.  This is called parity, and effectively signals that Vermont recognizes that mental health issues are as valid and legitimate as physical injury.  In one incredible piece of legislation, H.197 provides direct action to protect emergency workers and helps to peel away decades of stigma around mental health.

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This well-crafted legislation presumes that PTSD in first responders directly relates to what we see every day, but requires other workers to prove that their professionally diagnosed mental health problem was caused by their job, due to stresses above and beyond what the average Vermont employee experiences.  Imagine a part-time gas station attendant who watched his co-worker get shot and killed in a robbery.  As it stands, this poor person would not get workers compensation coverage to treat the PTSD that could result from this extreme experience.  And if that person couldn’t bear the stress, the re-experiencing, and the mental anguish of returning to their job, he could lose their health care coverage, and not be able to afford paying for the therapy he so clearly and desperately would need.  Vermont is in a mental health crisis, and this legislation removes barriers to good care.

By speaking against this bill, the Scott administration and some lawmakers have made it clear that health insurance profits are more important to them than the gas station attendant above.  They raise the spectre of inflated premiums, which Representative Anne Donahue has rightly called “fear-mongering.”  Representative Donahue further argues that as Vermont has expanded mental health coverage, there has been no significant impact on health insurance prices.  Governor Scott and like-minded legislators make no mention of the suffering, the jobs lost, or the lives damaged by those that can not get treatment for their mental health problems.  They would prefer to keep barriers to individuals seeking mental health care, guarding insurance company profits.

As I described, post-traumatic stress disorder is a disabling condition that can ruin lives.  At its simplest, it can take good hard-working Vermonters out of the labor pool because returning to their jobs triggers flashbacks and re-experiencing that are too gruesome to tolerate.  Worse, I have seen PTSD ruin marriages, break up families, even drive people to take their own lives.  This bill does not offer coverage to people making frivolous claims.  It provides coverage to people who are professionally diagnosed with a disabling condition, and even makes them prove that their condition was a result of extraordinary stress experienced at their job.  Denying coverage for these claims is misguided if not downright cruel.

We must remember that firefighters and other emergency responders are often loathe to seek help, especially for something as personal and as sensitive as PTSD.  We owe it to them to remove every barrier to effective care that we can.  And while everyone stands in clear support of H.197 helping first responders, can we really stomach saying that firefighters clearly deserve this help, but that other Vermonters do not?

Mike Hudson is a former computer security expert and current fourth-year medical student at the University of Vermont who is going into family medicine. He is a resident of Richmond, where he is also a firefighter.


Take Action Tuesday: Racial Justice in Vermont

As part of a national movement to lead mass political education events, Rights & Democracy is announcing a series of weekly “Take Action Tuesday” organizing calls.

 

These Tuesday evening calls will offer ways for people to take action here in Vermont. We know there is a lot of frustration nationally, but we have a lot of work to do here at home. These half-hour calls will connect you to the organizations and issues that need your voice or time. We’ll send out RSVP notices in our Monday call-to-action emails, and will set up a page on our website to highlight each call.

 

Lead Organizer Elise Greaves will host these calls. Her first guest will be Mark Hughes of Justice for All, who will update us on an important piece of racial justice legislation, H. 492, which creates an unprecedented Racial Justice Oversight Board that will oversee the implementation of mitigating strategies to address implicit bias in state law and policy. Mark will update us on where the bill stands, who we need to contact to ensure its passage this session, and more.

 

Justice for All has an online petition supporting this legislation, along with key background information.

 

Around the country, our sister organizations are leading mass political education events throughout the month of April based on a study of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence. We are joining in this effort by bringing attention to the needs in our state across multiple, but interconnected, issues of rights, justice, and democracy.

 

Save this Link for the Call!

Join us for a half-hour online conference call from 7 PM ET to 7:30 PM ET.

 

Here are the topics we’ll be focusing on in upcoming Take Action Tuesday calls:

  • April 11, 2017 - Economic Justice
  • April 17, 2017 - Climate/Environmental Justice
  • April 24, 2017 - Immigrant Rights
  • May 1, 2017 - Movement Politics

 

Follow RAD on Facebook and Twitterfor more updates.

Support our Work: Sign up as a contributing member of Rights & Democracy today!


Coalition to Lawmakers: Keep $15 an Hour Minimum Wage a Top Priority

IMG_1138.JPG MONTPELIER - Leaders of the Vermont Raise the Wage coalition convened Tuesday in the State House to send lawmakers a clear message: Passage of a $15 minimum wage is a top priority of working Vermonters and it needs to pass this biennium.

 

Coalition members were joined by several lawmakers who have been instrumental in keeping this legislation moving through the House and Senate, as well as Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.

 

Legislative leaders have made the minimum wage increase a priority to pass in this biennium. No bills passed either chamber, however, before the crossover date to ensure passage before adjournment. Instead, the bills will be taken up first thing in January 2018, after lawmakers are briefed by legislative and outside economists on the impacts the legislation will have on workers and businesses.

 

“In a session dominated by the notion of affordability, it’s a shock that raising the minimum wage hasn’t been at the top of the agenda,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina-Washington (P/D).

 

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