New advocacy group Vermont Leads aims to counter anti-single-payer spin

Peter Sterling

Peter Sterling, executive director of Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security Education Fund, is embarking on a new political venture to start an ad campaign supporting efforts to move to a single-payer health care system. VTD/Alan Panebaker

Peter Sterling, a health care reform advocate, is taking a step deeper into politics with a new organization called Vermont Leads: Single Payer Now!

With help from other advocates and the national Service Employees International Union, Sterling has created a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that plans to launch a media and grassroots campaign for a publicly funded health care system.

Sterling, executive director of the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security Education Fund, said he got together a board and partnered with SEIU because it is a crucial time for the single-payer movement toward a publicly funded universal health care system.

“The reason we’re doing it now is we feel like we’re in a very dangerous time for single payer,” Sterling said. “The opposition is using the fear of the unknown to kind of derail reform.”

That opposition, Sterling said, comes from groups like the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Vermonters for Health Care Freedom (which has run television ads criticizing the Shumlin administration’s efforts to reform the state’s health care system).

The money the group will spend on advertising, around $100,000 or so, Sterling said, will come from SEIU.

Sterling said he hopes to counter the anti-reform message, especially since there will be major announcements coming out in the next six months — including a proposed benefit package from the Green Mountain Care Board and a financing plan for the universal health care system in January.

The group will launch officially Thursday at an event in the Pavilion Auditorium in Montpelier. Perhaps not surprisingly, Gov. Peter Shumlin — who campaigned on the single payer issue — will give a speech.

Sterling said there is no relationship between Vermont Leads and Shumlin’s re-election campaign other than the fact that they both support single payer.

Alex MacLean, secretary of Civil and Military Affairs for the Shumlin administration, said the group has been apprising the governor of its actions but that is all.

Surprisingly, it seems the relationship that has received the most attention has been the SEIU reach into Vermont.

In an article published Monday on the website, labor journalist and lawyer Steve Early implied that the SEIU’s efforts to campaign for single payer are really an effort to squeeze out other unions in a quest to unionize home care workers.

Matt McDonald, an SEIU staff member who will be on the Vermont Leads board with Sterling and five others, said the union does have a goal of organizing home care workers in Vermont. He said that goal coincides with efforts to create a single-payer system. Although the SEIU does not have a presence in the state already, McDonald said the organization works on health care reform issues throughout the country and with a possible adverse ruling on the federal health care law, reform could lie with the states.

McDonald said SEIU leadership met with Gov. Peter Shumlin at a Democratic Governors Association event and thought what was happening in Vermont was the most interesting and exciting in the country.

“We thought we should explore more how we could be helpful,” he said. “There was a paid media campaign under way by the opposition. There was a role and a space we thought we could provide.”

McDonald said the union does not plan to replace or replicate other labor movements like the grassroots-organizing Vermont Workers’ Center.

Critics of Vermont’s health care reform efforts are skeptical of the new organization ramping up during election season.

Jeff Wennberg, executive director of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, also a 501(c)(4), said Vermont Leads appears to be an organization set up to funnel $100,000 of union money into the state.

Wennberg said he is frustrated by the fact that the Shumlin administration and health care reform advocates downplay concerns raised by groups like his that the state keeps punting plans to fund the single payer system.

“They refuse to respond to our information and arguments and simply dismiss us as being supported by out-of-state money,” he said.

Wennberg said health care reform proponents say groups like his are spreading misinformation while refusing to engage in substantive debates about the issue. He said he is concerned the ad campaign will further drown out their voice.

But Wendell Potter, a former insurance company executive and now a health care reform advocate, sees it the other way.

Potter will be at the group’s opening press event Thursday.

He said he will be working to help people communicate the message of what single payer is and help health care reform advocates anticipate the opposition they will face. He said insurance companies and other vested interests are already funding efforts to dismantle health care reform in Vermont.

“It’s not a stretch at all to think the state will be a battleground,” Potter said. “It will be. What’s happening in Vermont is certainly of concern to the insurance industry and others who have a financial interest in the status quo.”

Alan Panebaker


  1. Ann Raynolds :

    I say BRAVO! Where do I contribute? And when I lived in MA I had nothing but good experiences with the SEIU while working on local Boston issues with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). As Potter says Vermont IS a “battleground” on this issue and we who support bringing a single payer health care system to Vermont welcome the support.
    This canard bandied about that the Administration or the Green Mt. Care Board (GMCB) won’t come up with how much a single payer system would cost until 2013 seems to be their last limp argument. I have been to the local Health Care Listening session conducted by the GMCB and listened to hours on the Interactive TV Listening session conducted by the GMCB and I among others are impressed with the effort the Board is making to listen to ordinary Vermonters regarding the benefits a single payer system should be covering. This is the way to price a system: What do the people who will be paying for and using the system want included?
    To rid outselves of the profit-making insurance companies whose multiple offerings, high deductibles and co-pays requently prohibit any but catastrophic services simply has to go. It is a costly and confusing system for providers (and I am one) and it does not provide the services which can promote and maintain health and well-being.

  2. jimmy fordham :

    Peter Sterling is the right person to lead…he’s always been forthcoming, knowledgeable and most importantly honest and truthful. Thanks Peter for helping leading the way towards single payer healthcare. You have a lot of people backing you for success.

  3. This seems to be a wise move given the disinformation campaign that will be so aggressive from opponents of single-payer. I agree that Peter will be a terrific advocate as well.

  4. Apparently Mr. Wennberg is upset that there will be a counter balance to VHCF’s insurance industry supported propaganda ads aimed at “single payer” and the Green Mountain Health Care Board.
    Instead of going negative, VHCF and others might show how they would provide affordable universal comprehensive care for all Vermonters in their next set of T.V. and radio ads. They probably won’t or can’t. We will see.

  5. Brian McAllister :

    Sorry, but I cannot get on board with an organization that has lobbied with and run interference for Obama to keep single payer out of the National Health Care Bill. It seems to me that if single pay was important to them, then the SEIU would not have done all that they did to keep it out of a national system.

    I find it convenient that people choose to ignore the fact that the SEIU has been involved in NUMEROUS violation of labor laws, and has a LONG history of caving to state demands. Ultimately all the SEIU wants is our money, and as a home health worker that takes care of my mother who has stage 4 cancer, is a diabetic and has other health problems, I will hitch my horse with AFSCME. Unlike the SEIU they have not harassed me on the phone, have not made promises that I know they will not keep, and their President is not on record stating that his goal is to dismantle capitalism (which if that happens, where are the jobs?).

    I would also ask where the outrage is in how this is comming down? THEY give money, THEY assign seats on the board, THEY will get what they want, and what they want will be disasterous for home providers like myself and the over 5,000 others in this state. Shumlin has sold his soul for a few pieces of silver.

  6. Stan Hopson :

    I smell a democrat vs democrat crime wave heading our way. Our local Unions can’t be thrilled about having SEIU bankrolling a shell group with the REAL goal being getting a toehold here organizing.

    Add former Shummy pal VIPIRG’s Burns firing Gekas on the spot and we have the makings of some interesting fireworks.

  7. darrel armstrong :

    It seems to me that serious support for Single Payer should include help to Jill Stein’s campaign. The Green Party may never win the presidency, but the stronger the showing the more pressure is generated to force the Democrats into real action on the health care crisis. Max Baucus’ huge gift to the insurance industry does little to help most Americans but certainly has guaranteed him a massive campaign war chest,when he comes up for re-election. Obama’s selection of the man who bought off the pharmaceutical industry as his point man on healthcare could hardly have been an attempt at real reform.

  8. rosemarie jackowski :

    History might show that the Supreme Court decision is a big step away from Single Payer. The problem is that too many see it as a step forward. Today even my favorite media person, Amy Goodman, got it wrong. I believe she reported that Vermont is well on its way to Single Payer. Not true. Maybe 5 or 50 years from now, but in the meantime Vermont’s health care system continues to degrade. None of the ‘experts’ in charge seem to want to eliminate insurance companies, or cap the price of medical procedures. We need to understand why cataract surgery costs $927 in Canada and the same procedure costs $14,764 in the USA. Greed, Wall Street, Hospital CEO salaries… and ‘experts’ who seem to be on the wrong side of the issue.

    Things are so bad that more than 300 cases of abuse of the disabled have been reported and ignored by the system. A suit has been filed. Good luck with that.

    Until we have real SINGLE PAYER people will continue to die needlessly.

  9. Dan McCauliffe :

    Although I don’t disagree that costs for medical procedures in the US are usually higher than other countries, your quote: “the same procedure costs $14,764 in the USA” is way off the mark. This may have resulted from the error made in a NY Times article:

    A correction was later made and can be found at the end of the article.

    Correction: January 30, 2012
    “An earlier version of a table accompanying this article contains an overly high estimate from the International Federation of Health Plans for the cost of cataract surgery in the United States. The group based its original estimate on in-patient hospital costs, while a later estimate was based solely on charges in outpatient facilities where virtually all cataract surgery is now done. The federation says the average cost for cataract surgery in late 2010 was $3,161, not $14,764.”
    I am not sure if the $3,161 figure is the average charge, or the average payment. Medicare payments for cataract surgery are less than $1,000, that are inclusive of the surgeons fee and the facility fee.

    • Bob Johnson :


      Now that we’ve established you can add a correction to an opinion piece that gets its facts wrong, or makes “technically inaccurate” statements; any chance of you trying to add the same thing to your last opinion piece to account for the statement we both agreed was incorrect?

    • rosemarie jackowski :

      Dan… I apologize if the info from the NY Times was incorrect – however, I know first hand that dental procedures cost much, much more in Vermont than they do in Costa Rica. I know people who go from this area to CR for dental work, which is of a higher quality than that available here. Even with the cost of air fare and housing – dental care costs much less in CR.

      Remember when Bernie ran a bus from VT to Canada so that people could get meds there – now we need a plane to take Vermonters to Costa Rica.

      For those who missed Frontline this week – it is available on the Internet. The title is DOLLARS AND DENTISTS.

      Also…we need to eliminate the law that prohibits a licensed doctor/dentist from another State from rendering compassionate care in Vermont. Read my article titled SIZE MATTERS in the book BANNED IN VERMONT. It is also free on the Internet.

  10. Galen Crandall :

    I suggest Dr. Conger look to the medical profession as to why many folks have a dfficulty in meeting medical bills. Dr. Conger, and the medical profession as a whole, fail to mention the exoribant fees they charge patients. They also ignore the higer wages paid from janitor to executive officers for those involved in health care delivery.
    It’s my opinion that every patient should be provided an itemized copy of the bill being sent to his/her insurance company. Better yet the copy should be initialed and then sent to the insurer.
    Galen Crandall
    Perkinsville, Vt.



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