Universal Health Care Advocates Launch Year 2000 Campaign

Volume XCIX, No. 11December, 1999

Judy West

Some 200 health care advocates from 23 states launched U2K – a national campaign to make universal health care a priority in the 2000 election season, and build a broad movement for its passage in 2001 and beyond – at the ninth annual conference of the Universal Health Care Action Network (UHCAN!) in October.

UHCAN’s annual conferences are the only national gathering where activists from a broad range of constituencies gather to address long-term strategies to achieve full health care justice. This year’s meeting was held from Oct. 22-24 in Washington, D.C.

Setting the tone for the gathering was a rally on the capital steps on Oct. 22, addressed by two strong congressional supporters of universal health care, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.).

The following morning, Executive Director Diane Lardie welcomed delegates to the conference and explained the factors behind UHCAN’s decision to adopt the U2K campaign as its vehicle of action.

A keynote address on the failure of the “market-based remedy” was presented by Donald Light, PhD., of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania. He outlined the history and development of the U.S. health care system in the 20th century, describing how public health approaches that stress prevention have been marginalized.

Dr. Light also traced the history of efforts to establish a system of national health insurance – an issue raised by the United Auto Workers in the 1970s – and the recent widespread shift to health maintenance organizations, based on managed care, cost shifting and, increasingly, the refusal to meet patients’ needs.

A discussion of the political logic of the U2K campaign was opened by Nick Unger, a member of UHCAN’s Executive Board and Director of Associate Membership for UNITE. (An article by Unger describing the campaign appeared in November’s Allegro.) He pointed out that, for the first time since 1992, the problems of the health care system are again at center stage. And, in a sharp break from the past, many in the provider community are moving to support universal health care. Most important, he noted, is that 2000 is an election year, a time when politicians are more inclined to listen.

Saturday afternoon was given over to workshops that looked at how the U2K campaign would play out in three major contexts: state and local activities; Medicare defense and reform; and patient protection/public accountability. The discussions were free and reflected differences based on the work each of the participants was engaged in. Some expressed concerns that U2K would interfere with the aims the various organizations had defined for themselves, and that the U2K campaign was not direct enough in its organizing for universal health care. A strong level of commitment to the campaign was reflected in the report-backs from the workshops. This set the stage for the final session, a strategy session.

Conference attendees were asked to describe what commitment they were able to make to guarantee U2K’s success. If the resources can be mobilized, UHCAN! would like to hire five organizers, to work in various regions of the country. When the conference opened, a goal was projected of getting 2,000 partners (organizations) to sign on to the campaign within six months. However, leaders of national organizations that pledged their involvement as partners during this session pointed out that they would invite their local constituents to become partners, too, opening the possibility of signing on considerably greater numbers.

In the days immediately following the conference, UHCAN! launched a search for its first organizer. It will soon publish two booklets to move the campaign forward. Updates will appear in future issues of Allegro.