Last month, the city of Denton, Texas became the 100th municipality in the nation to pass a resolution in support of Medicare For All. Such resolutions are part of a growing national movement to build support for legislation, popularized by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, that would create a universal, federally funded, single-payer health care system nationwide. And Connecticut is no stranger to the cause: the cities of New London, Windham, New Haven and Stamford have already passed such resolutions in recent years – and many more are expected to follow suit.
Why should local governments care about such ambitious federal legislation as Medicare For All? Beyond the health and well-being of their constituents – 44% of respondents in a recent poll said they avoided seeking health care due to cost, when Medicare For All would provide coverage universal insurance without premiums, co-pays, or deductibles – the answer is simple. Because the status quo is simply unaffordable.
Cities and towns are responsible for providing their citizens with a number of essential resources and services, from schools and fire departments to public libraries, police and road maintenance. This means employing a lot of people and employees need health insurance. Over the past decade, the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage has increased by 47%, straining not only household budgets, but also those of employers, including municipalities. .
In my hometown of Hamden, the residential property tax rate recently topped 50 thousand, a burden in particular for some of the town’s most vulnerable residents. Hamden spends more than $50 million on health insurance costs each year, or 19% of the city’s operating budget. In Waterbury, one of the few towns in the state with higher taxes than Hamden, health insurance spending is $70 million. In the capital city of Hartford, which has the highest mileage rate in the state, annual insurance costs for employees and retirees are more than $97 million, or more than 16% of the total city budget. These costs are expected to continue to rise. Since Medicare For All would eliminate the need for private and employer-sponsored health insurance, these onerous budget lines would be significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated, freeing up dollars for much-needed tax relief, debt service, education, and countless other valid causes. Imagine the possibilities!
By passing city resolutions like New London, Windham, New Haven, Stamford, and most recently Denton, local leaders can highlight how unaffordable our current health insurance system is and advocate for truly universal access to care for their voters. The resolutions also make a clear statement to lawmakers in Washington: to date, Representative Jahana Hayes and Senator Richard Blumenthal are the only members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation supporting Medicare For All. The pressure of municipal resolutions can help change that and put us on the path not only to more sustainable local budgets and lower property taxes for homeowners, but also to truly universal health care.
Peter Cunningham is a board member of Medicare for All Connecticut.