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 the legislation, popularized by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, which would create a federally funded, universal single-payer health care system at the national level. And Connecticut is no stranger to the cause: The cities of New London, Windham, New Haven, and Stamford have already passed such resolutions in the past few years — and many more should take their lead.
Why should local governments concern themselves with such ambitious federal legislation as Medicare For All? Beyond the health and well-being of their constituents — 44 percent of people in a recent survey said they had avoided seeking health care due to concern for the cost, whereas Medicare For All would provide universal insurance coverage with no 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. That means employing a lot of people, and employees need health insurance. In the last decade, the cost for employer-sponsored health insurance coverage has risen a staggering 47 percent, straining not only household budgets but those of employers — including municipalities.
In my hometown of Hamden the residential property tax rate has recently surged past 50 mills, a burden especially on some of the town’s most vulnerable residents. Hamden spends over $50 million on health insurance costs each year, fully 19 percent of the town’s operating budget. In Waterbury, one of the few towns in the state with higher taxes than Hamden, health insurance spending tops out at $70 million. In the capital city of Hartford, which boasts the state’s highest mill rate, the annual costs of insurance for employees and retirees is over $97 million, more than 16 percent of the total city budget. These costs are projected to continue rising. Because Medicare For All would eliminate the need for private and employer health insurance, those onerous budget lines would be significantly reduced, if not eliminated completely, freeing up dollars for much-needed tax relief, debt service, education, and countless other worthy causes. Imagine the possibilities!
By passing municipal 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 constituents. Resolutions also make a clear statement to lawmakers in Washington: To date, Rep. Jahana Hayes and Sen. Richard Blumenthal are the only members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation to support Medicare For All. Pressure from municipal resolutions may help change that, and set us not only on a path to more sustainable local budgets and lower property taxes for homeowners, but one toward truly universal health care.
Peter Cunningham is a board member with Medicare for All Connecticut.