The Fight for Quality, Affordable Health Care for All

For a PDF version of this, click here: Health Care

In 2007, USAction asked a question: What would it take to pass quality, affordable health care for everyone?

USAction determined that in order to compete with the deep pockets of the insurance industry and other special interests, we would have to build the largest, single-issue progressive coalition in the history of politics in our country.

And so we did.

For more than a year, we talked to funders and we brought to the table important coalition partners such as AFSCME, Center for Community Change, and SEIU. We helped build what eventually would become a coalition of more than 1,000 partners.

On July 8, 2008, Health Care for America Now! was officially launched. HCAN held press conferences in 52 cities, including Washington, D.C. to announce a $40 million campaign aimed at securing quality, affordable health care coverage for every person in the U.S.

The events – many organized by USAction affiliates – yielded a stunning 66 pages worth of media coverage. In Washington, D.C., USAction Executive Director Jeff Blum attracted the attention of Reuters and MSNBC when he called health care reform “the human rights movement of our time.”

Across the nation, organizers and advocates worked tirelessly to ultimately secure support for HCAN’s core principles from 21 Senators and 179 Representatives, demanding affordability and choice and regulating the insurance industry’s horrendous practice of denying care to those in need.

Putting these members on the record on the side of reform, and not on the side of insurance industry greed, served to shape the national debate around what real health care reform legislation would look like and to show Congress that the American people were calling for reform in a specific way.  Barack Obama and Joe Biden also signed their support for the principles, which aided in positioning health care reform as a priority in the new administration.

With health care reform as our signature issue, USAction sought to elevate the national dialogue on the need for reform by organizing and educating groups across the nation to see health care as integral to the well-being of our nation and the future of the progressive political agenda.  We succeeded.

Along with hundreds of local rallies and demonstrations, USAction and our affiliates played a key role in organizing the nation’s largest lobby day for health care ever held in the nation’s capital. On a bright, sunny summer day in Washington, more than 10,000 people came to D.C. to bring a simple demand to Congress: Pass quality, affordable health care for all and do it this year.

USAction affiliates and partners brought more than 1,600 people from 25 states. We accounted for 60 visits to members’ offices on Capitol Hill. We led, or played an integral part in organizing, nine Town Hall meetings, out of 13 total. We organized 31 buses that brought activists to D.C.

Throughout the health care fight, we brought stories. We developed leaders.

Leaders like Stacie Ritter, the Pennsylvania mother of two twins who were diagnosed with leukemia at age 4. With $30,000 in medical debt, a mortgage, her husband’s brief unemployment and food costs, the family of six filed for bankruptcy in 2003. Then their insurer, CIGNA, refused to pay for growth-hormone injections that doctors recommended.

“I’m here on behalf of my special interest – my children,” Stacie told reporters. “We cannot make our children pre-existing conditions.”

Leaders like Kelly Arellanes, an AT&T worker from Arkansas who was in a coma for three weeks after a 2004 accident. Kelly and her husband David had to pay more than $200,000 in medical bills when Kelly’s emergency surgery was not covered by UnitedHealthcare.

Leaders like Melanie Shouse, a health care activist with our Missouri affiliate who was featured in an online video that went to USAction supporters in October 2009. Melanie initially was denied treatment for her Stage 4 breast cancer.

By February 2010, Melanie had passed away. But tens of thousands of Americans – all the way up to President Obama – commemorated her passing, and she gave us what it took to take health care reform across the finish line.

Leaders like Marcelas Owens, a young activist with Washington Community Action Network, whose mom died after she lost her job and her health insurance. Marcelas stood next to President Obama as he signed the historic reform law.

It took a movement to pass health care reform. And it took stories and leaders.

We are USAction. We are the true majority.