Single-payer advocacy group gets boost from NEA, poll shows support for health reform

Navigator Peter Sterling, director of the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security, at his table in the Motor Vehicle Department lobby in Montpelier. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Vermont Leads director Peter Sterling. VTDigger file photo

The single-payer advocacy group Vermont Leads is back in action with an $80,000 infusion of cash from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union.

The grassroots organization has returned with a new poll it says illustrates broad support for Vermont’s health care reform agenda.

Peter Sterling, the group’s director, said the poll wasn’t conducted to make a splash in the media, but to help the NEA gauge public opinion on single-payer before throwing its support behind the initiative.

“We support Green Mountain Care, and believe it is an outstanding opportunity for Vermont to show the rest of the country that universally available, portable and publicly funded health care can work for all Vermonters,” Vermont NEA President Martha Allen said in a statement.

They are also interested because teachers’ unions will eventually be required to purchase health insurance through the state exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

Those unions will have to choose whether to purchase plans as a group on the exchange or turn their members loose to shop as individuals.

Either way, the generous health benefits many of the unions have fought for over time will disappear.

Darren Allen, a spokesman for Vermont NEA, said, “The health insurance that’s been built up over 40 years through VHEHI will eventually cease to exist, whether that’s in 2017, 2018 or 2020.”

VHEHI is the health insurance offered through Vermont NEA, which covers 40,000 members.

Vermont’s planned universal health care program is likely to secure better benefits for teachers — and the rest of Vermonters – than what’s offered by the exchanges.

Outside money

Vermont Leads was founded by single-payer advocates in May 2012 to defend Act 48 through its first electoral cycle, Sterling said. It lay dormant after its original union sponsor pulled its funding.

The group maintained a presence on social media, but the NEA money will allow it to do education and outreach work during the upcoming election.

“I don’t know if (Green Mountain Care) is at risk. I think it’s important to make sure that legislators move through this (election) cycle feeling like health care reform isn’t going to drag them down,” Sterling said.

But Sterling did raise the specter that Vermont could become awash in outside money as the state’s health reform agenda rolls forward.

“I think there’s always a concern that super PACs are going to drop unlimited dollars to run a disinformation campaign on universal health care,” he said.

Darcie Johnston, a staunch opponent of single-payer with the advocacy group Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, doesn’t think it will take that much to derail reform.

“This is a real battleground, they may have an advantage if this was a ballot initiative, but this is about control of the Legislature,” Johnston said. “I think that’s why the NEA is doing this.”

Johnston isn’t suggesting that Republicans could gain control of the Legislature in November, she said, but if the GOP picks up 10 to 15 legislative seats, it could potentially block passage of a financing plan for Green Mountain Care – the next hurdle for single-payer.

Poll results

In addition to the money the NEA spent to revitalize Vermont Leads, they spent another $35,000 on a poll to measure public support for Green Mountain Care.

Boston-based Democratic polling firm Kiley and Co. performed the poll over a three-day period in mid-January, which Sterling pointed out was the height of blowback against the troubled rollout of Vermont Health Connect.

Still, close to half of the respondents said they had some confidence that the state government would do a good job of running the health care system, he said.

Only 11 percent said they had a “great deal” of confidence, but 38 percent said they had a “fair amount” in the state’s capability.

Another 28 percent said they had “not very much” confidence the state could manage the health care system.

The 502 respondents were selected using randomized cellphone and landline numbers and were screened for registered to voters.

Quotas for gender, county and employment status were used to ensure the sample is reflective of Vermont’s electorate.

When respondents were asked if they favored or opposed single-payer health care system for Vermont, without any additional information the results were mixed.

Twenty-five percent responded they were opposed, 24 in favor and 51 said they didn’t know enough to have a firm opinion.

After being read a brief description and rationale for Green Mountain Care, those in favor rose to 55 percent with 42 percent opposed.

The margin of support drops to 51 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed when the question is framed around whether they would still support universal health care if it meant the largest tax increase in state history.

The respondents split along partisan lines with Democrats overwhelmingly in favor and Republicans opposing single-payer.

“I think that the poll proves that it’s going to be very difficult to move a certain block of people out of their preconceived notion that government involvement in health care isn’t going to be a good thing,” Sterling said. “Our efforts are better focused on educating the majority of Vermonters who are already with us.”

However, individual aspects of health reform polled well across party lines, Sterling said.

Eighty-six percent said they favored making health care available to all Vermonters, and 70 percent said they favored a system that would have the government pay medical bills directly instead of through insurance companies.

More respondents than not said they thought Green Mountain Care would increase their health care costs, while also limiting their access to health care.

“Even though Vermonters think they’re going to pay more, or at least the same, or they’re going to have the same or worse access to health care, they still want it to happen. And that’s what I think is the most remarkable part of this,” Sterling said.

That indicates that support for health care reform isn’t transactional for Vermonters, meaning they’re not focused on what they stand to gain in the new system, Sterling said.

“Vermonters view the need to do health care reform as a value,” he said. “They view it as something that is important in their world view.”

Johnston keyed in on results from the poll that show Vermonters believe the quality of health care in the state is currently good or excellent and that 84 percent of Vermonters are satisfied with their current health care.

The poll also reveals that women are more likely than men to support single-payer, and the young are more likely to support it than the old.

Education is also indicative of support, with college graduates more likely to favor single-payer than those without a college education. Support ticks up further among those with graduate degrees.

Thirty-six percent of respondents said they would be more inclined to support a legislator who voted to move forward with Green Mountain Care, another 39 percent said it would make no difference, and 26 percent said they would be less inclined.

The poll also revealed the importance of semantics when it comes to talking about health care reform.

The phrase Affordable Care Act polled better than Obamacare, and universal health care fared better than single-payer.

“If we were to start over branding-wise we probably would, but it’s in the lexicon and it’s something people understand,” Sterling said.

Morgan True

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11 Comments on "Single-payer advocacy group gets boost from NEA, poll shows support for health reform"


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Jim Barrett
2 years 10 months ago

Sterling is worried about PAC money coming into the debate while he scoops up tens of thousands from the NEA…….that tells me a lot about this person and the farce we are now faced with in this socialist program!

Paul Lorenzini
2 years 10 months ago

Did they only poll themselves?

Coleman Dunnar
2 years 10 months ago
“Twenty-five percent responded they were opposed, 24 in favor and 51 said they didn’t know enough to have a firm opinion.” And the reason all the facts aren’t out is……?????? The price will be revealed after you signed the purchase agreement “After being read a brief description and rationale for Green Mountain Care, those in favor rose to 55 percent with 42 percent opposed.” Conclusion – our sales pitch works…. “Even though Vermonters think they’re going to pay more, or at least the same, or they’re going to have the same or worse access to health care, they still want… Read more »
Stan Shapiro
2 years 10 months ago

A very significant deal or understanding likely was cut at the highest levels of the food chain.The tie in here is vague.The unknowns about how this will all come down are really not revealed to anyone so one can only conjecture as to how NEA has benefitted. Perhaps there is a really good reporter out there that can provide us with the latent and not manifest content.

Joyce Wilson
2 years 10 months ago


Single payer provides a way for the union to dump their underfunded state retiree pension obligations onto the single payer health system. This is the gain that the NEA gets from endorsing single payer.

A question that teachers and other state workers are asking is whether their health benefits will be as good under single payer and will they pay the same, more or less for these benefits.

You can find the answer in an earlier article from Vermont Digger.

2 years 10 months ago


2 years 10 months ago

I can’t believe the headline for this article states, “POLL SHOWS SUPPORT FOR HEALTH REFORM.” This poll garners an un-prompted response 24% approval for single payer, 25% opposed, and 51% not sure.

The last poll we had on this a year ago, done by Castleton in Feb 2013, showed an unprompted response of: Favor 52% Oppose 30%, Not Sure 17%, Refuse 1%.

What the poll indicates is that support for single payer has been more than cut in half over the past 12 months!

2 years 10 months ago

One of the real strengths and value of the vtdigger has been its basic ability to stay above the fray and remain objective in its reporting. Allowing the opinion battle to be waged by the commenters seems to be a winning formula, why abandon it?

The headline” “poll shows support for health reform” is a bad omen for maintaining objectivity especially given the actual and very narrow poll results.

I hope I’m wrong in expressing this concern.

Cheryl Pariseau
2 years 10 months ago
So this poll came to this conclusion by sampling 502 people. The states population is about 626,630, which 19.8% are under the age of 18 (per US census). So that leaves an over 18 population of 502,558. This means that the poll was preformed on less that 1% (0.09988896803950988) of the over 18 population in the state. How in the heck does this prove anything?? Why doesn’t single payer be put to a vote on town meeting day or even in the Nov. elections. I think that would give the best bang for the buck. These groups are always preaching… Read more »
Craig Powers
2 years 10 months ago

Remember when Peter Sterling and his organization picketed at Lenore Broughton’s house (and trespassed on her porch!)? Their complaint was that she was influencing health care reform with her money?

I guess it is ok for Vermont Leads to get $$$ from the NEA to influence the public debate, but when they disagree with someone else it is not ok? Talk about complete hypocrites.

Hopefully the money will run out soon, VT Leads will go away again.

Paul Lorenzini
2 years 10 months ago
Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Single-payer advocacy group gets boost from NEA, poll shows support f..."