Health Care is a Human Right

Maine’s state motto is Dirigo, meaning “I Lead.” For many years, Maine had lived up to our motto in the arena of health care reform.  We have one of the nation’s lowest percentages of uninsured residents and we have traditionally had stronger consumer protections than most other states. But we won’t be satisfied until every Mainer has the health coverage they need at a price they can afford.

The Maine People’s Alliance has been working on universal health care for almost 31 years. Despite incremental reforms in the right direction, Mainers still struggle with constantly rising health care costs and unaffordable insurance options. There have been times when we have come close to winning truly universal coverage, but we have always heard from legislators and other policy makers that universal, single-payer health care was just not politically possible, that there were too many barriers, too many unanswered questions.

In 2009, the Vermont Worker’s Center began a grassroots campaign in Vermont called Health Care is a Human Right. They were a small organization, with only a few staff and volunteers, but they realized that in order to win universal health care they had to change what was considered politically possible. They started talking to their friends, neighbors, church communities and other groups about the health care crisis. They realized that the first step was to build consensus about the problem. The grassroots strategy of talking to everyone they could find, getting agreement that health care is a human right and that our current system was denying people this right, allowed Vermont to show their legislators and policy makers that not only was universal health care politically possible, being a health care champion was key to winning their elections. Vermont was successful at passing universal health care.

Here in Maine, we are beginning to follow Vermont’s example. The Maine State Nurses Association, the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine People’s Alliance have been working together since last summer to design our own Health Care is a Human Right campaign. This summer we worked with partners like Maine AllCare, the Southern Maine Worker’s Center, and others to talk to our friends, co-workers, and neighbors about our health care crisis and a need for a system that is based on the human rights principles of universality, equity, transparency, accountability, and participation.

The human rights principles lay out a vision for what our health care system should look like. Universality means that everyone must have access to comprehensive, equal high-quality health care. Everyone; no exceptions.

Equity means that health care resources and financing must be shared equitably, so that everyone gets what they need and pays what they can. A system that is overseen by government, which includes everyone and is paid for with taxes, can help us achieve equity. There must be no systemic barriers to accessing care.

Accountability means that government has an obligation to establish a health care system that meets human rights principles, and this system must be accountable to the people it serves. Our current system is not accountable because only a small number of shareholders have a say in a for-profit insurance company. A system that is managed through the government will allow everyone to have their voice heard.

Transparency means the health care system must be open with regard to information, decision-making, and management. Again, our current system is not at all transparent. Most people do not know how there insurance premiums are being managed, and have no decision-making capabilities.

Participation meant that the health care system must enable meaningful public participation in all decision affecting people’s right to health care, including the design and operation of the system itself. A system that really works for the people must be run by the people.

In order for Maine to successfully follow in Vermont’s footsteps and create a path to health care as a public good, we need everyone to get involved. You can contact one of the organizations involved in the campaign or visit and the campaign’s facebook page: to find out more.

It’s a long road, but together we can make a difference.