Vermont, synonym for "progress."
The "Socialist Republic of Vermont," as the late reactionary Robert Novak called it, has just had signed into law by Governor Peter Shumlin a plan to provide America's first single-payer healthcare for all, covering all 620,000 Vermonters.
Vermont, of course, was first in the nation to ban slavery (1777), to close a nuclear power plant for environmental reasons, and to legalize same-sex unions. (But "unions," mind, not marriages. This is still America, after all.)
In the U.K. Guardian, an admiring Amy Goodman writes:
Vermont has become an incubator for innovative public policy. Canada's single-payer healthcare system started as an experiment in one province, Saskatchewan. It was pushed through in the early 1960s by Saskatchewan's premier, Tommy Douglas, considered by many to be the greatest Canadian. It was so successful, it was rapidly adopted by all of Canada. (Douglas is the grandfather of actor Kiefer Sutherland.) Perhaps Vermont's healthcare law will start a similar, national transformation.
Tommy Douglas faced down a 1962 doctors' strike and introduced his then-novel Medicare gradually. Indeed, he waited 18 years from the time of his first becoming Saskatchewan premier, in 1944, to introduce his controversial plan. The rest of Canada hardly rushed to embrace it, Ontario's conservative premier of the time being a particularly obdurate holdout. With similar caution, "Green Mountain Care" (what else?), spearheaded by Shumlin and Bernie Sanders, the only avowed Socialist in the U.S. senate (he caucuses with the Dems), will not be rolled out until 2014.
But Goodman is right, on all counts. Medicare, a term which in Canada refers to healthcare for all, not just seniors, was introduced nationally in 1966 and today is the thing about Canada that Canadians say they most like. (Conversely, Toronto is the thing most Canadians say they most dislike.) And in 2004 CBC program seeking to determine whom we considered "the greatest Canadian," Tommy Douglas won out over the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Pierre Trudeau and even the nation's founder, John A. Macdonald.
But I'm just not sure if this will migrate. I love to think it will.
When he was governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson scrapped traditional welfare in place of a more costly and comprehensive program, Wisconsin Works, that could be crudely described as "welfare to work," but was more nuanced and compassionate than that sounds. The state's chronically unemployed were paid to get their high-school equivalency and post-secondary education, with their daycare expenses covered for that time. Social workers were assigned to Wisconsinites committed to improving their lives, helping guide them through the government bureaucracy and with work placements. The state's welfare rolls shrank dramatically.
That was in the later Clinton years, and hopes of other states adopting Wisconsin's experiment ran high. But in the decade or so since, the Wisconsin approach has not been taken up.
That said, for pragmatic economic reasons, there's reason to hope that "Granite State Care" and "Empire State Care" knock-offs would soon emerge, as neighboring New Hampshire and New York sought to also (a) take better care of their people, (b) reduce healthcare costs, and (c) prevent their best and brightest citizens from defecting to Vermont.