American Federation of Teachers, Vermont-NEA pour money into campaign for universal health care in Vermont

The nation’s two largest teachers’ unions have officially jumped into the push for publicly financed health care in Vermont.

The American Federation of Teachers gave $100,000 to a newly formed issue advocacy group, Vermont Coalition for Universal Reform, which will work to build broad-based public support for the state’s planned universal health care program and work to ensure its implementation.

Earlier this year the National Education Association, the largest union in the country, funneled $80,000 into Vermont Leads, another single-payer advocacy group.

The labor groups’ spending on health reform in Vermont is a small fraction of what they spend nationally on political lobbying. In 2013-2014, NEA spent $6,689,227 on political lobbying and AFT spent $981,850, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Teachers’ unions will eventually be required to purchase insurance through the state health care 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 likely change.

The American Federation of Teachers in Vermont represents the nurses unions and higher education staffers.

Ben Johnson, the president of the Vermont chapter of the AFT, said the group’s membership has long supported universal health care for Vermonters, and is part of a coalition that made health care reform a core issue in the crowded 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

“Our members are largely professional people that have good jobs – jobs that provide health insurance – but they saw the need to work really hard to help bring up the standards for everybody,” Johnson said.

“For the nurses, they see every day what it means not to have good health care, for people to get their primary care in the emergency room or not be able to get the treatment they need,” he said.

Vermont Coalition for Universal Reform, or Vermont CUR, has retained Montpelier lobbying firm KSE Partners to help promote their advocacy work.

“The focus is to support universal reform with the ultimate goal being full implementation of Green Mountain Care,” said Todd Bailey, president of strategic communications for the firm.

The group said it will use an array of tactics to push toward that goal, including direct lobbying, grassroots organizing, paid and earned media, and will also engage in electoral activities.

Vermont CUR is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization and cannot target specific candidates, but can run issue-based political campaigns during election season. The group is not required to disclose its donors.

Bailey said it’s too early to say exactly how the group’s advocacy work will take shape, but that should become clearer in the coming months.

“This is not about the 2014 legislative session. This is about looking to the future and recognizing the 2015-2016 biennium represents the moment when the heavy lift will occur, and to be prepared for that moment you need to start working now,” he said.

The Vermont CUR board is meeting for the first time this week, he said. The board includes Johnson; Art Bell, whose company Dreamlike Pictures has created political advertisements; Bram Kleppner, CEO of Danforth Pewter; Dr. Peter Dale of Central Vermont Medical Center; and Todd Bailey’s wife, Lauren Bailey, a palliative care nurse at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Todd Bailey has appeared in advertisements made by Bell’s company.

The group may add members to its board and it will continue to look for donors from Vermont and out-of-state, Bailey said.

Advocacy against Vermont’s move toward a universal health care system has come primarily from the group Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, also a 501(c)(4).

The group’s director, Darcie Johnston, declined to discuss whether she has received any large donations or which groups or individuals are supporting her work.

Morgan True

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  • Paul Richards

    Anything to make their gold plans that we are all forced at gun point to pay for legitimate.

  • Tom Sullivan

    I was under the impression that VT frowned upon out-of-state-money. I guess that this particular special interest is politically correct and gets a free pass.

    • Have you considered the DC-based NRA money coming into Vermont to fight tighter gun control ?

      • John McClaughry

        I would be highly surprised if NRA sent any money to any group battling gun control in Vermont. More likely it sent an ILA field person up to explain that anyone who votes for gun control will be targeted in the next election.
        If NRA actually did send somebody money – ever – I’d like to know about it.

    • David Schoales

      Open your eyes- where do you think all these lobbyists in the statehouse get their funding? Wait until the anti-single payer groups start revealing their sources. At least the teachers are honest about it.

  • Glenn Thompson

    From the article!

    “Teachers’ unions will eventually be required to purchase insurance through the state health care exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.”

    I’ll have to admit….I’m at a lost in understanding this one? Anyone who personally knows a teacher or aware of their present health care coverage knows those current teacher plans are among the best healthcare plans offered anywhere’s.

    Throw them all into the same pot under Obamacare,ShummyCare, or the proposed Vt. Single Payer fantasy…would most likely lead to a healthcare plan that is inferior to what they have now, not to mention more costly with higher deductibles. Is there any teacher out there that agrees with the union leadership on this one?

    • J. Scott Cameron

      The plan is that when the day comes and teachers are in the health care pool with everyone else that teachers will also have negotiated “wrap around” plans, paid for by their employers (taxpayers), that maintain their elite insurance status. The teacher unions support Shumlin now with $ and political clout and they get taken care of later.

      • John McClaughry

        This is almost certainly correct. What the unions don’t grasp – or denying – is the dramatic change that Green Mountain Care will force – leading to rationing, shabby facilities, antiquated technology, demoralized doctors and nurses, prolonged waiting periods, etc. that invariably result from single payer schemes (cf Quebec Medicare).
        They may negotiate “wraparound” insurance to cover their out of pocket expenses, but what they will be getting won’t be what people will be getting in say New Hampshire.

  • Joyce Wilson

    Single payer provides a way for the unions to dump their underfunded state retiree pension obligations onto the single payer health care system. This is the gain that the unions get 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.

    The underfunded teacher retiree health benefit obligation is a threat to teachers’ pensions as discussed in an earlier story.

    • Paul Richards


    • Jamie Carter

      That underfunded health obligation is the state’s not the unions. Why does the union care, the state is legally obligated to come up with the money regardless of whether it’s underfunded or not.

      The union really doesn’t gain much from endorsing singly payer except perhaps political favors down the road… say in a statewide teachers contract debate or a school choice debate…

    • J. Scott Cameron

      Your are right Joyce. But the teacher unions will get more than that in return for their financial and political support. Working teachers will not simply get the benefits provided under a single payer system – they will also negotiate wrap around plans to keep them whole with what they currently enjoy. Taxpayers (employers? Employees?) will pay for it, as well as for single payer.

  • Walter Carpenter

    “Is there any teacher out there that agrees with the union leadership on this one?”

    I know teachers who would agree with the union leadership on this one.

    “would most likely lead to a healthcare plan that is inferior to what they have now, ”

    How do you know? It could be better or just as nice as what educators have now. It would be nice if all Vermonters could have the same plan.

    • Jim Christiansen

      No one knows Walter. The governor won’t follow the law and tell Vermonter’s what the plan will cost and the legislature won’t discuss what coverage will look like.

      You can make assumptions based on hope and change retoric for yourself, but please don’t make them for my family.

    • Jamie Carter

      He doesn’t know, thus the term “most likely.”

      But considering the how VHC has compared to previous policies, it would be silly to think that the state is going to all of a sudden come up with a plan that competes with the Cadillac plans the teachers enjoy now.

    • J. Scott Cameron

      It would be nice if marshmallows and lollipops fell from the sky every full moon.

      The cost estimates for single payer, already exposed as far too little to fund the system, are based on assumptions which include a much reduced (as compared to VEHI Dual Option, the standard plan for teachers) benefit package and much lower reimbursement for doctors and hospitals. No one has explained why doctors will stay in Vermont and work for reimbursement rates which barely exceed medicaid (would good teachers want to work in Vermont if they were paid 10% more than the minimum wage?) Oh, and did I mention that Shumlin will not tell us how we are going to pay for this?

    • Glenn Thompson

      Walter Carpenter,

      How would I know? Probably by knowing people who are covered under the present healthcare plan offered to teachers and employees of a school system.

      For example! I know of one family where the husband fought cancer for years and racked up bills that exceeded the 7 figure costs. Almost all costs were covered under the plan. Do you really….really….really believe school districts will receive the same ‘Cadillac’ type plans under a single payer system?

      • J. Scott Cameron

        No, but with their political power and the right to strike they will get their employers to buy them additional insurance – wrap around policies – two maintain the two tiered health insurance system that currently exists,

  • How do you find out more about this newly formed group? I can’t find anything about it.

  • Sounds like more of the same old union bashing that I’ve gotten very sick of over my 40+ years in this state. If the AFT supports the new plan, I’ll trust the AFT.

    • J. Scott Cameron

      Why not do some research and think for yourself?

      • Because I was an AFT member for 20+ years as a VSC professor and know that it has the best interests of its members at its core. For your information, I would not have become a professor if I didn’t know how to think for myself ! As for Vermonters For Health Care Freedom, it sounds like yet another Citizens United ruse.

        • Ethan Rogers

          It’s past time we put the teachers under the VA healthcare system in every state.

        • John McClaughry

          Ruse? What is VHCF (501(c)(4)) doing that it could not have done prior to the Citizens United decision?
          (Hint: absolutely nothing).

  • Kristin Sohlstrom

    Sounds to me like it’s time teachers in VT start standing on their own too feet against what the AFT and NEA are doing with their dues.

  • Joyce Wilson

    I just read several interesting explanations for why the unions are promoting single payer.
    These include bailing out the underfunded teacher pension benefits as I suspected, but also to win political favors and to grow union membership. Countries like Canada with government run health care have many more health care workers join unions than in the US.

    I also learned that the Vermont Workers Center that helped push for single payer in Vermont is part of a nationwide group of union activists.

    I found this information on the Vermonters health care freedom facebook page

  • Tony Redington

    As a member of a single payer health plan (the State employee health plan) have seen little change in premiums over the past few years since wellness and preventive care were stressed. Folks, we are in the same boat and want good care for all–teacher, state employee, private employee, and non-workers. The “wrap around” is mostly a financial benefit not a health service benefit–all employers can decide whether to supplement the base plans.

    The point is to put insurance companies out of business in Vermont and enjoy the benefits of low administrative costs of single payer–like I and other State employees under a self-funded plan do today and have for decades.

    • John McClaughry

      Explain to me how the self-insured state employees health plan is “single payer”? Is it any different that IBM’s plan? Are there no other payers now paying our medical providers?

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