U2K – The Universal Health Care 2000 Campaign

Guest Commentary

Volume XCIX, No. 10November, 1999

Nick Unger

What will it take for the United States to establish a health care system that provides comprehensive, quality and affordable health care to all? This sounds like a very complex question, since health care accounts for one-seventh of the U.S. economy, and affects everyone.

Hundreds of health care activists were to meet in Washington in late October at the Universal Health Care Action Network (UHCAN) annual conference to help launch the answer to this question: the U2K Campaign. U2K is shorthand for a unifying political and educational campaign targeting organizations and activists to make the need for universal health care a central part of the 2000 elections, and to use the 2000 elections to move America towards achieving universal health care.

The logic of the U2K Campaign starts with the crisis in health care. The number of uninsured has risen to nearly one-sixth of the population, over 44 million people. For tens of millions more, even those with insurance, needed care is unaffordable or unavailable. The restrictions of managed care increasingly distress both health care professionals and the general public. Health care inequality is rising, and public health quality is falling. Even Medicare, America’s most important and successful health program, is under pressure. Health care costs, already the highest in the world, are beginning to rise precipitously again.

In summary, America’s health care costs too much, covers too little, and excludes too many. And these problems are getting worse.

The year 2000 can be a time for big political decisions. Most union members know that health care is in trouble. They have seen year after year of relatively ineffective, piece-meal reform efforts from Washington or Albany since the demise of national health reform in 1994. Today’s candidates for high office are proposing more of the same, while refusing to deal with the basic problems of the health care system.

While the politicians remain cautious, organizations that represent tens of millions of Americans – like the National Council of Churches, the Gray Panthers, the Catholic Health Association and even the American Medical Association – are taking strong, public stands about the need for America’s political system to tackle the need for universal health care.

The Universal Health Care 2000 Campaign focuses this growing sentiment for universal health care on the 2000 elections as the logical place to start a multi-year campaign. A strong U2K Campaign will accomplish three vital objectives. It will:

  1. Increase the political visibility of the need for fundamental health reform nationwide;
  2. Strengthen local health care coalitions and create new linkages with other organizations concerned about America’s health care crisis;
  3. Help create an energized bloc of universal health care supporters in the next Congress.

The U2K Campaign Statement is broad enough to unify health care activists, and sharp enough to provide direction for meaningful action. The opponents of universal health care have great wealth, which they use to influence American politics. Insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and business and health professional trade associations are among the biggest spenders. A serious universal health care campaign demands the unity of the broadest spectrum of advocates.

Every organization that participates in the U2K Campaign works for universal health care in its own way. The U2K Campaign helps coordinate activities where appropriate, and provides educational materials and other resources. The U2K Campaign will not take a stand now on the best way to achieve universal health care, nor describe the future health care system in detail. These discussions will have more meaning after the 2000 elections demonstrate a strong political thrust for universal care. The U2K Campaign does not seek to displace any of the valuable health care reform efforts currently under way. In 2001, supporters of the campaign will organize discussions on different organizing strategies and consider the merits of alternative legislative proposals.

Local 802 has long been involved in the campaign for universal health care, and it will be represented at the UHCAN conference. Look for a report on the U2K Campaign – and what 802 members can do – in the next issue of Allegro.

Nick Unger, Director of Associate Membership of UNITE, is a member of UHCAN’s board and a convener of the U2K Campaign.

U2K Campaign Statement

We believe that:

  • Everybody needs access to comprehensive, quality care.
  • Health care is a basic human need and a basic human right.
  • The 1990s market-based solution to America’s health care problems is failing and the crisis is getting worse.
  • It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace for the United States to be the only long standing democracy to enter the next century without a national guarantee of health care for all its people.

We commit our organizations to:

  • Use the 2000 elections as the beginning of a sustained effort to ensure comprehensive, quality, affordable, health care for all.
  • Work with other groups and associations towards this end.

We call on all candidates running for office in 2000 to commit themselves to making universal health care a goal to be achieved early in the next century.