Every Democratic Party presidential candidate is putting forward his or her ideas for national health care. Each one is calculated to look like a universal, fully accessible health care proposal. But each is also calculated to be able to withstand the assault from the Republican Party, the medical-industrial complex, and their politicians and media advocates.

Each plan tries to avoid being too advanced, lest the price tag appear to be too expensive. At this point none of these proposals are worthy of unqualified support. Nonetheless, it is a good sign that the candidates are at least joining the debate.

Two significant legislative bills are in the hopper. Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and James McDermott (D-Wash.), along with more than 20 others, are co-sponsoring HR-676, “Medicare for All.” A single-payer plan, it is probably the most inclusive of the insurance-based programs.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is reintroducing her National Health Service bill (the new number has not been set as yet). In the tradition of former Rep. Ron Dellums’ bill, it is the most comprehensive of all proposals and is a good yardstick for judging other plans.

Below the radar

But in some ways an even more important development is taking place. It is just under the congressional pundit radar. It is not a fully worked out legislative proposal. But it is beginning to commit a large number of elected officials to the true definition of the term “universal.”

It started in the House when Rep. John Conyers introduced the “Health Care Access Resolution,” House Concurrent Resolution 99 (HCR-99). Now supported by well over 125 House members, it directs Congress to guarantee universal access to affordable health care.

HCR-99 came about in response to health activists who wanted to bring the broadest number of politicians to pay attention to the issue of national health care. The American Public Health Association, the Universal Health Care Action Network (UHCAN) and many other groups have signed on to the proposal. Labor has also joined in. According to the UHCAN there are over 450 national, state, and local organizations on board.

This session’s HCR-99 was introduced in the House on March 18. The next step was to gain Senate sponsors. That has happened.

Senate moves

Now, for the first time since the collapse of health care reform in the early 1990s, the U.S. Senate is showing some positive movement. Key liberal senators have just signed on to this Health Care Access Resolution movement. They are Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.). Their leadership in the Senate will be critical if the movement is to succeed. The formal title of this proposal is Senate Concurrent Resolution 41, and it was introduced on April 30. This was good news for the over 70 million people who over the last year did not have health insurance at any given time and the over 45 million who haven’t had health insurance for the full calendar year.

Given the apparent fear by members of Congress to put forward a serious major piece of comprehensive health legislation – fear of its powerful corporate and political enemies – this kind of proposal, in UHCAN’s view, is an important effort to educate the American public about the need for affordable access to comprehensive health care for all, and to mobilize them to take action toward that goal. The Health Care Access Resolution is seen an essential first step to enacting health care reform that provides health coverage for everyone.

Labor and local action needed

Momentum is building for some legislative relief of the health care crisis. In many cases this will involve lobbying for HR-676 or the Lee bill. But everyone should be on the phone and organizing delegations to meet with their U.S. senators to get them to sign on to SCR-41, and House members should be urged to support HCR-99. Local, national and international labor union leaders and members should sign on. Grassroots movements like these can light the fires of struggle that can galvanize a movement to enact the kind of legislation needed to seriously address our health care crisis.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org