Is Vermont delivering on the promise of quality, affordable health care for women?
Families depend on both men and women to make ends meet. Women across Vermont are leading households and supporting families. It’s critical to make sure that all women are getting the health care they need to lead healthy, prosperous lives. As the World Bank says: Gender equality is smart economics.
The 2014 Women’s Health Report Card for Vermont underscores that we have a lot to be proud of — Vermont continues to lead the nation in women’s health. In the report card, Vermont was ranked No. 3 and earned a final grade of A. This report ranked all 50 states on 30 measures of women’s health, including coverage, access to care and health outcomes.
I was pleased to see this glowing grade as more evidence that Vermont is on the right track and is a leader in health care. However, I also took this opportunity to educate myself on Green Mountain Care — the next step in Vermont’s health care leadership. I’ll admit that I knew very little about the universal, publicly funded health care system outlined in Act 48. This is something to which the state of Vermont has already committed, and now I can comfortably say that I support this path forward and urge others to get educated.
So what is Vermont doing right? The positive strides of the Affordable Care Act expanded health coverage to more women through the new health insurance marketplaces and through Medicaid, improved coverage of preventive care, created stronger oversight of insurance rates, and increased quality improvement initiatives.
But can Vermont be doing better? Yes. There is room for improvement to ensure that all women in Vermont have access to the health care they need to lead healthy and prosperous lives — especially women of color. Our great report card cannot erase the truth that women of color in Vermont are still less likely to have health coverage, access to health care, and have poorer health.
Looking at the measures of women’s health by race, 6.1 percent of white women in Vermont report being uninsured. That percentage rises to 8.4 percent for black women and then jumps to 17.3 percent of Latinas. Additionally, 11.7 percent of elderly women earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level are uninsured along with 9 percent of those between 138 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level. These upsetting disparities will be erased if Vermont moves to Green Mountain Care in 2017. All Vermonters will have health insurance, just by virtue of being a Vermonter.
Vermont has a special opportunity to achieve the equality that is missing here and throughout the nation. There are many leaders working to balance the financing of this system; to translate the dollars we are already spending on health care into an equitable, universal system. This is enormously complicated, and the devil will truly be in the details. While not increasing the burden on individual Vermonters and Vermont businesses, we need all of our state leaders to side with women and communities of color to make their health a priority — to give our mothers, sisters and daughters full and fair opportunities that begin with quality, affordable health care.
Please join me in supporting our legislators’ commitment to work with the administration to finance Green Mountain Care. And let’s make an example of our state with a true system that is fairly financed, does not harm economic growth and achieves the equality we all deserve.
Stephanie Hainley is Chief Operating Officer at White and Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors in Burlington. She a founding board member at Main Street Alliance of Vermont and is past president of Burlington Business & Professional Women. This op-ed was originally published at the Barre Montpelier Times Argus and subsequently in the Burlington Free Press.
Last week, Main Street Alliance, in partnership with former governor Madeleine Kunin, convened a Business Task Force on Earned Leave in Burlington, Vermont. The event was held at locally owned Hotel Vermont over two days and included a visit from the United States Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez and a conversation with Washington business owner Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Shops in Seattle.
The purpose of the two day roundtable was to bring together a broad cross section of the Vermont business community - including representatives from various business chambers, associations, and business owners to discuss last year’s legislative proposal on Earned Sick Days and to begin to chart a course forward with an eye toward the 2015 legislative session. Participation was well balanced between those who have a record of supporting efforts to establish a minimum standard of paid time off and those who have historically opposed such proposals.
The two-dozen participants heard from several experts in fields related to the debate on the first day and spent the following morning engaged in a facilitated dialogue surfacing both concerns and common ground. Secretary Perez, who stopped in to speak to the group for an hour, expressed his admiration for such a collegial approach to the issue, encouraged the continuation of productive dialogue, and expressed his hope that Vermont will be able to pass a bill next year.
Perhaps the most impactful moment was when Seattle business owner, Molly Moon Neitzel, teleconferenced in to share her experience as a business owner in a city that has already passed legislation similar to that under consideration in Vermont. Molly acknowledged her own initial skepticism of a universal standard of earned sick time in Seattle and admitted that, prior to the debate in her city, she had not offered sick time to her employees who tend to be between the ages of 18 and 24 and primarily part time. She was worried that her staff would use all their time and couldabuse the privilege – that it would be just another costly mandate in a city already known for its progressive workplace policies. In reality, however, she said that it’s had a negligible cost and has built enormous goodwill. She said, “It’s a liability on the books, but the cost just hasn’t materialized. I spent way more last year changing my brand of strawberries than paying for paid sick time.”
Main Street Alliance will continue to facilitate dialogue within the Vermont business community looking forward to the introduction of a new bill in 2015 to establish a minimum standard of earned paid leave in Vermont.
Main Street Alliance, a national network of state and locally based small business coalitions, announced this week that they are affiliating a state project in Vermont under the leadership of Lindsay DesLauriers.
“We are thrilled to begin working with businesses in Vermont where so many exciting things are on the horizon,” said Main Street Alliance’s national Director, Amanda Ballantyne. “We worked with businesses in support of the Affordable Care Act and we are looking forward to helping elevate the strong support among small business owners in Vermont for Universal Health Care, among other issues.”
The group’s founding members include Liza Cain and Randy George, co-owners of Red Hen Bakery; Melinda Moulton, CEO of Main Street Landing; Trudy Trombley, owner of the Boutique at Stowe Mercantile; Stephanie Hainley, COO at White and Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors and former President of the Burlington Chapter of Business and Professional Women (BPW), and Wayne Nelson, partner at L.N. Consulting. They issued a joint statement saying, “We are excited to welcome Main Street Alliance to Vermont and to help elevate the voice of Vermont’s small businesses. We know that when we support our communities, we support our community businesses and we’re looking forward to making it easier for small businesses to join in these conversations in Montpelier.”
DesLauriers, comes to this role fresh from the 2014 Paid Sick Days Campaign, where she was the Campaign’s Director, employed by Voices for Vermont’s Children. “I’m so happy that I’ll be able to continue to work with the Earned Sick Days Coalition and local business owners to advocate for a standard of paid time in Vermont,” DesLauriers said. “As the Campaign Director for Paid Sick Days, it was my goal to address Vermonters’ real need for a standard of paid time in a way that makes sense for businesses and honors their leadership in policy development. We made a lot of progress last year and we’ll continue to work toward this goal in 2015.”
Main Street Alliance small business members have helped develop, support, and implement economy-boosting paid sick days laws in Seattle, Washington; Portland and Eugene, Oregon; Newark and Jersey City, New Jersey; and New York City.
Personally, DesLauriers grew up working and skiing at Bolton Valley Resort, which was owned and operated by her family until 1997. With both family and professional ties to the business community and the hospitality industry, DesLauriers describes herself as uniquely sympathetic to the challenges and responsibilities borne by small and mid-size businesses in Vermont. “Main Street Alliance is a great fit because both I and the organization as a whole are committed to the core values that will that will support and grow local businesses by supporting and building a robust economy for all Vermonters.”
Main Street Alliance creates opportunities for small business owners to speak for themselves to advance public policies that are good for small businesses, their employees, and the communities they serve. Vermont will be the 12th state affiliate.
As part of our founding work, the Vermont Main Street Alliance Outreach Team has been traveling across the state this summer speaking to hundreds of small business owners about a variety of statewide policies. The small business owners we’ve met have helped us to understand their concerns, they’ve shared their ideas, and they've shown tremendous support for a number of issues that we know will be addressed in the upcoming legislative session – including overwhelming support for the implementation of a universal, publicly-financed healthcare system in Vermont.
The owners we spoke to have shared that a universal healthcare system would remove a cost-burden from employers that many of them simply cannot afford. Even those who are providing insurance still struggle with the knowledge that, under the current system, many of their employees often can’t afford the co-pays and high premiums.
Additionally, many of the small business owners we’ve met have shared that the lack of affordable, high-quality childcare in Vermont has made it difficult to retain employees. They are keenly aware of how hard it is for Vermonters - owners and employees alike – to manage the demands of work with small children to care for. In some areas of our state, it is just plain hard to find reliable, high-quality childcare; where it is available, it’s hard to afford. We are learning that this is much more than an issue impacting low-income working families: the challenges posed by accessing childcare and the need to improve quality impact all of our families – owners and employees alike. Many of the businesses have even signed a statement of support for the efforts of Let’s Grow Kids, a public education campaign focused on the importance of early childhood.
But one of the most interesting and validating themes that has come up unsolicited again and again is that our main street business owners aren’t feeling represented by the larger business chambers – often both at the regional and state level. There is a feeling shared by many that the traditional chambers prioritize the interests of larger businesses, not always understanding the implications of how truly tied to the community locally owned small businesses are. The Vermont Main Street Alliance outreach team has been working hard to make these connections with real Vermont small business owners to help ensure that the voices and interests of small businesses are heard and represented.
While corporate CEOs are pressuring Congress to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of a so-called "Grand Bargain" to reduce the debt, small business owners say that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be devastating to small businesses across the country.
A new series of reports from the Main Street Alliance and Social Security Works, Business is (Baby) Booming, analyze the important role Social Security and Medicare play in both strengthening the retirement security of small business owners themselves, and fueling consumer demand on Main Street in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Instead of cutting Social Security and Medicare, small business owners say Congress should crack down on offshore tax abuse that allows the wealthy and corporations to avoid more than $100 billion in U.S. taxes per year by sheltering their income offshore.
State "Business is (Baby) Booming" Reports
- Washington, D.C.
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia