Sterrett’s goal: Get VT to single-payer finish line

July 14, 2014

Burlington Free Press

The man holding the chart Thursday for Dean Corren, Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor, was working a year ago as health care counsel for Public Citizen, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C. with a mission to promote the interests of the public with Congress and government agencies.

At Corren’s news event, David Sterrett, 37, introduced himself as the candidate’s campaign coordinator.

Sterrett’s professional career took a turn after he co-wrote a Public Citizen report, “A Road Map to Single-Payer: How states can escape the clutches of the private health insurance system.” It came out last July.

The report, which cited Vermont officials and studies because the state has committed to making a transition to a government-financed health care system in 2017, opened Sterrett’s eyes to an opportunity to make progress on a cause to which he is committed.

“I said, ‘Wow, Vermont is on the precipice. I’ve got to go try to help it get across the finish line,” Sterrett recounted.

He decided to leave Public Citizen, move to Vermont and look for ways get involved in building support for Vermont’s health care experiment.

Sterrett may be just one individual drawn to Vermont to try to influence whether the state moves forward with a government-financed health care system covering all residents, but he is an example of the broad out-of state interest in what happens here.

One of the groups Sterrett linked up with after moving here, Vermont Leads, was founded in 2012 with money from the Service Employees International Union. More recently the Vermont arm of the National Education Association gave the nonprofit $80,000 to help it with its initiatives to explain to the public the need for a single-payer health care system.

The American Federation of Teachers provided $100,000 this spring to set up another organization to support Vermont’s single-payer initiative. Vermont Cure grabbed Tess Taylor, assistant House Democratic leader, to head its effort to “counter distracting misinformation” and “support the governor and the Legislature in bringing us home to universal health care for all Vermonters.”

Advocates for single-payer welcome every dollar, new groups and individuals willing to lend a hand for what Todd Bailey of KSE Partners described as “the largest, most difficult lift in the state’s history and there can’t be enough people pushing.”

Will do anything

Sterrett graduated from Middlebury College and knew Middlebury professor Ellen Oxfeld, who is on the board of Vermont Leads and Vermont Health Care for All.

Before leaving Washington, Sterrett said he also met Dr. Deb Richter, president of Vermont Health Care for All and long-time advocate for a government-financed health care system.

These connections helped him find ways to get involved.

“He expressed an interest in helping us more,” Richter said Friday. “He came up in April. Next January he is going to be our lobbyist. It is nice to have someone with his amount of experience and policy knowledge.”

At Vermont Leads, “Dave was one of the people who helped me do outreach,” said the organization’s director, Peter Sterling. Vermont Leads is working with other groups to collect signatures on petitions to show lawmakers next winter the depth of support for implementing a single-payer system.

Sterrett has helped Michael Sirotkin, a Democrat appointed in January, to take his late wife’s Senate seat and now run for office for the first time. He gave Sirotkin campaign advice, set up his website and launched him on social media.

Now his gig is coordinating Dean Corren’s bid to unseat two-term Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

Sterrett hooked up with Corren because of the Middlebury connection — they are both graduates — and because health care is one of the main reasons Corren chose to run.

“We both recognize the historic opportunity here,” Sterrett said.

“I was very impressed by his resume,” Corren said. “That, coupled with his campaign experience and his focus and writing on health care seemed a great fit, so I interviewed him and was further convinced by his energy and enthusiasm.”

Sterrett expects Corren will argue that health care is an economic issue and Sterrett will be able to help him develop his arguments. His is co-author of a newly published report in the American University Health Law and Policy Brief entitled, “A Business Case for Universal Health Care.”

“I believe we have a purpose in our lives and this is my purpose,” Sterrett said of his health care work in Vermont. “I will do whatever anyone needs.”

Contact Nancy Remsen at 578-5685 or nremsen@freepressmedia.com. Follow Nancy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nancybfp