Skip to main content

Health Care for America Now: A New Campaign to Win Quality, Affordable Health Coverage for All in the U.S.

Resource type: News

Gara LaMarche |

The public relations spin doctors for the U.S. health insurance industry, who are probably busy at work concocting the script for a TV commercial or Internet ad to sink comprehensive health care reform in 2009, ought to think again. You may remember the fictitious couple, Harry and Louise, who appeared in a 1993 insurance industry ad that helped deliver a death blow to health reform that year. But that kind of disinformation won’t work in 2009. One of the main reasons why: HCAN, or Health Care for America Now, which is made up of more than 150 organisations, including the National Education Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, AFSCME, SEIU, U.S. Action, National Council of La Raza and many others. This burgeoning coalition, launched last week, is dedicated to fighting for affordable, quality health care coverage for all in the United States – a dream deferred, if ever there was one.

You can be sure that HCAN’s network of activist pediatricians, teachers, small business owners, unionised workers, independent contractors, people with specific illnesses, and so many others will be tireless in making the case that every one of us deserves the security of affordable, quality health care we can always count on, especially when we need it – when we are sick, out of a job or changing jobs – always.

Since 1993, the private health care industry’s “solution” that markets – and not government regulation – should solve the health care crisis has failed miserably. In fact, America’s health care problems have grown worse, not better, over the past 15 years. In 1993, 38 million Americans – nearly 16 percent of the non-elderly population – were uninsured for a full year. Today, at least 47 million have no health care coverage, including nine million kids, accounting for nearly 18 percent of Americans under 65. And tens of millions more Americans of all ages who are “insured” have inadequate coverage or are uninsured for part of a year. Despite various permutations of managed care, preferred provider networks and high-deductible plans – to name a few industry “solutions” – health inflation far outstrips the cost of living, not to mention the purchasing power and incomes of average Americans.

We know now from the Institute of Medicine that quality care is elusive, despite the high price we pay for health care, more than in any other nation. We know that uninsured individuals are more likely to put off care, become needlessly ill and die, and we know that at least 18,000 Americans die each year because they lack health coverage. We know that most of the uninsured are in working families, headed by people who earn modest incomes, and we know that Hispanics and African-Americans are among the hardest hit when it comes to health care in the U.S., contributing to racial disparities in health outcomes. In short, we know too much not to wage the most effective fight possible for a goal that so many have sought to achieve in the United States for so long.

That’s why Atlantic recently approved a major grant – one of the largest for advocacy ever made in the U.S. – for HCAN, and why we hope you’ll join or support this coalition to make certain that every member of Congress and every candidate for the House, Senate and White House understands that meaningful health reform is an essential action item in 2009. To win this fight, HCAN is organising visits to hundreds of members of Congress, running paid ads, organising public events and generating press coverage. HCAN is keeping pressure on U.S. leaders by asking them to declare which side they are on – the side of the majority of Americans who want affordable, quality health coverage for all; or the side of the private insurers, who want a free hand in maximizing their profits. Most crucially, HCAN insists that real reform must provide us with a choice: keep the insurance we have, or choose another private plan or a fully public plan with which private companies will be forced to compete on price and quality.

As Stuart Schear, our Communications and Policy Executive and a veteran of many efforts to improve access to health care, puts it: “No matter who we are, how sick we are or how little we earn, every one of us deserves affordable, quality health care coverage, and HCAN is ready to fight to win in 2009.”

In the past, powerful health industry lobbies have put supporters of coverage for all on the defensive, so Atlantic is also supporting the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think and action tank, to develop rigorous critiques of industry and conservative proposals that would force most Americans to pay even more for less health care. Working with HCAN and other partners, CAP plans to put the proponents of these unacceptable “solutions” on the defensive, which is exactly where they ought to be if we are to win.

At Atlantic we view health care not just as a matter of desirable social policy, but as a human right. In addition to our ongoing efforts in the U.S. to support health care coverage for children and quality chronic care for older adults, we work to improve health care systems, particularly in underserved rural areas, in South Africa and Vietnam. And, like our partners in HCAN, we understand that, for most Americans, health care is both an economic issue and a very personal one, too. American business owners, small and large, want to provide quality coverage for their employees at an affordable and predictable price. Manufacturers, exporters and their employees don’t want their products to be more expensive than those of foreign competitors because of the high price of health care. And those of us who are ill or love someone who is ill want to know that we can afford needed care without bankrupting our families.

Take David White, who owns a small auto-repair shop in Bar Harbor, Maine, who said he was “proud” to have always paid the entire cost of platinum health coverage for his employees, until his insurance costs doubled in just two years, outstripping his firm’s twelve percent increase in gross income. “To make up the difference,” he explained, “I had to do three things… choose a less costly plan, raise our rates, and lay off one person for six months… I was literally in tears, laying this out to my men.”

Or think about Michael of Phoenix, Arizona, who sent this note to HCAN: “I am 60 years old and self-employed with a small business. I had cancer 15 years ago, was treated and had no recurrence. Nevertheless, I cannot buy any medical insurance that will cover me for any type of cancer. I have an expensive high deductible policy for other illnesses, but I’m one other cancer [diagnosis] from bankruptcy.”

Or ponder the situation of Gillian of Altadena, California, who wrote to HCAN: “Our son broke his neck in a swimming accident in 2005 and instantly became a quadriplegic. We were ‘under-insured’ since my husband had been laid off and had just started a new job… We had an accident policy through his high school which soon ‘maxed out’. I had to stop working to care for our son. Managing his care and advocating for our son through state agencies became a two-year, unpaid, full-time job for me.”

These are just some of the stories that were shared last week when HCAN kicked off its campaign in more than 50 cities across the country, including 38 state capitals, as well as Washington, D.C. HCAN is working to make sure that our leaders and tens of millions of Americans understand these stories and their meaning for all of us. When the next insurance industry advertising copywriter tries to trick us into believing that it is somehow against our interest to regulate private health plans and to ensure that they cover us all, HCAN will be ready. This time, we stand a chance of repairing the most gaping hole in the U.S. social safety net.

Visit and get involved!

Gara LaMarche

Links to organisations mentioned in this column: