UHCAN’s Story, written on the occasion of our 20th anniversary

January 2012
For the last 4 years, since the start of the current national effort to make health care for all a reality in the U.S., UHCAN has focused on connecting the diverse constituencies of the health care movement and building unity for the protracted struggle we know will be required to achieve health care justice for everyone. We expect 2012 to be extremely challenging for all of us.

How did we get here?

UHCAN was founded in 1992, during our nation’s previous health care debate, at a national conference called by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for National Health Care. The Coalition, which had been waging a campaign to achieve single payer universal health care in Ohio since the late ‘80s, saw the need for an inclusive national network to connect other groups fighting for universal health care in states across the country.

Thus, UHCAN started out knowing that we had to be firmly planted in grassroots health care justice struggles and firmly connected to all national health care justice efforts, and have been trying to do that ever since.

The term ‘Network’ helped make the ‘CAN’ in UHCAN work, but it also symbolized our core mission to both connect state groups with each other and help them engage with national campaigns and organizations working around multiple approaches to achieving universal health care. The networking focus led us to our subsequent additional concentration on building unity in the long and tangled battle to achieve universal health care in our nation.

UHCAN's Health Care-avan to President-elect Clinton, Little Rock, AR

UHCAN’s Health Care-avan to President-elect Clinton, Little Rock, AR

UHCAN’s first initiative, six weeks after our founding conference, was to seek to hold President-elect Clinton to his campaign commitment to universal health care. Over 1000 people from 32 states garnered national media attention by rallying and marching in the People’s Health Care-avan in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1994, UHCAN spear-headed the formation of Single Payer Across the Nation (SPAN), a national campaign to push for the “American Health Security Act” in Congress, the universal health care bill sponsored by Sen. Paul Wellstone, Rep. Jim McDermott, and Rep. John Conyers, among others. SPAN also mobilized national support for the campaign for Proposition 186, the hard-fought universal health care ballot initiative in California.

From 1992 through 2005, during much of the pre-social networking age, UHCAN’s annual national conferences and monthly print newsletter, Action for Universal Health Care, were major ways we helped the components of the health care movement connect, learn from each other, and identify unity-building opportunities.

Street theater, "People's Court for Health Care justice," prior to UHCAN's 1995 National Conference, Washington, DC

Street theater, “People’s Court for Health Care justice,” prior to UHCAN’s 1995 National Conference, Washington, DC

During the “dark ages” of 2000 through 2008, when health care justice was not likely to move on the national agenda, UHCAN collaborated with national partners to spearhead a series of campaigns to help state groups come together and engage on the national stage, including:

Universal Health Care 2000 Campaign, or U2K, (1999-2000), which stimulated the formation of the Universal Health Care Caucus in the House of Representatives led by Rep. John Conyers and others;

• UHCAN’s Faith Project was launched in 2000 to provide a national center for faith-based health care justice advocacy. In 2007 it evolved into Faithful Reform in Health Care, which continues this work today;

Health Care Access Campaign (2001-02), which supported the Health Care Access Resolution (H. Con Res. 99), which set forth principles for universal health care reform and a commitment by Congress to enact legislation to achieve these principles – ultimately sponsored by 95 Members and endorsed by 70 national and hundreds of state groups;

Affordable Health Care for All Campaign (2004) calling on candidates for President and Congress to speak to issues of health care affordability and coverage for all Americans;

Making Health Care Work for All Campaign (2005-06) which mobilized around the federally created Citizens Health Care Working Group which, for the first time, set up a broad-based process to ask Americans what they wanted to make health care work for all Americans; and,

• a series of explorations of various policy approaches that could get to universal health care in a very difficult political period, including treating health care as a public utility (that’s when we still regulated utilities!), the Health Partnership Education and Advocacy Project (2006) to devise federal incentives for states reforms (formalized in the bipartisan Health Partnership Act), and mobilizing around initiatives for expanding Medicare and achieving Medicare for All.

In 2000, UHCAN started hosting monthly (more often during hot periods) national conference calls for state health care justice leaders, which continue to this day. These calls provide one of the few opportunities for health care justice leaders to learn from and share with each other on a regular basis. The calls, together with the audio and written notes that follow them, and periodic alerts providing news and links for the movement, have taken the place of our earlier national conferences and print newsletter.

Unity Workshop

UHCAN’s Unity Workshop, New York City (2009)

During 2008 – 2010, UHCAN’s Unity Initiative developed a series of workshops which were conducted in major cities and for national conferences. These workshops were designed to help groups working around multiple approaches to health care reform find common ground and new ways to collaborate, and to minimize potential conflict over differences. The approach we developed during this period infuses all aspects of our work today.

Beginning in 2008, UHCAN worked closely with a number of national groups representing major constituencies, including women, physicians, progressive state legislators and unions, to help make connections and develop strategies to more fully engage these constituencies with grassroots health care coalitions in their states in the historic struggle to shape and achieve national health reform. This culminated in passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in March 2010. Our work with state groups and national campaigns continues in the ongoing effort to realize the full potential of the ACA, to defend Medicare and Medicaid, and to keep the goal of universal health care on the agenda for our nation.

In 2012, the struggle for health care for all will be fought in the context of an intense election year. Experience has shown that election years always pose challenges for health care advocates, and this one will be no exception!

When we started, we saw UHCAN as a temporary network to address the needs of the early 1990s. Twenty years later, we have no aspirations to become a permanent institution, but we aim to be here for as long as there is a need for the work we do. The need is still there, and so are we.