HCAN: The “Now” of Health Care for America Now…

With the new year comes a farewell to Health Care for America Now, which was the lead national coalition working to pass the Affordable Care Act. Health Access was proud to be the lead partner organization in California for the Health Care for America Now! campaign.

After five-and-a-half years and $60 million, the organization is disbanding, now that the “now” in Health Care for America Now has been mostly attained, with the major elements of the Affordable Care in place. The organization was always structured as a time-limited campaign, and was originally set to close down immediately after the law was enacted, but it was kept going because the opposition continued and was so intense. With the critical milestone of people now enrolled in new “Obamacare” coverage options, the organization had accomplished what it set out to do as a coalition — win the law, beat back repeal and help advance implementation.

That doesn’t mean in any way that the effort around health reform is over. One of the key aspects of HCAN was that it was built from existing organizations and efforts (like Health Access California and other state-based advocacy groups), and helped build their capacity in the course of the campaign. So both national coalition partners, and state partners like Health Access is now in a stronger position to continue the efforts in California and elsewhere.  We will continue to work with other national organizations on national campaigns as appropriate, and of course will be deeply involved in the work in California to fulfill the full promise of the law.

Some lessons from HCAN’s success:

* The national coalition pulled together was important in creating a common message and coordination among many community, constituency, and progressive groups–from labor groups like SEIU and AFSCME to MoveOn to Planned Parenthood to National Council of La Raza. Each of these groups had specific issues that they needed to focus on in reform, and HCAN helped ensure that groups understood how those issues fit into the larger effort–and provided broader help to them when reproductive right or immigrant inclusion or worker benefit issues became contentious.

* HCAN supported health reform with gusto, but wasn’t a blind follower of the President’s position. HCAN sought to balance working for the health reform in general, but also supporting the *best* reform possible–which meant pushing for better affordability, more oversight on insurers, and most famously a public option. But it also kept the eyes on the prize of passing health reform as a whole.

* Many national political campaigns ignore investing in grassroots organizing, and when they do, often will directly hire/parachute organizers into a few key swing districts. HCAN believed in grassroots organizing as a key part of winning; believed in having a 50-state strategy that meant developing champions as well as convincing “swing” legislators; and finally, partnered with organizations already on the ground. In this way, rather than start from scratch, they were able to leverage the relationships, experience, and infrastructure already in action by groups like Health Access, California Partnership, ACCE, and others.

Health Access was able to contribute our lessons and experience from California working on state-based health reforms, and that helped. And in turn, the work with HCAN enabled us to be more effective, and bolstered our efforts since in getting the ACA successfully implemented in California. There’s more work to do, and we are in a better position to do it.

Here’s an article from Forbes from late last year that describes the decision by HCAN, entitled, “Mission Accomplished-Key Obamacare Lobby To Close Its Doors“:

With the Affordable Care Act now in the final stages of becoming a part of the American fabric, Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the grassroots coalition founded more than five years ago to bring meaningful healthcare reform to life, has announced it will close its doors at the end of this year.

Says Ethan Rome, HCAN Executive Director, “HCAN is now ready to conclude its work because we’ve achieved what we set out to do — we helped win the law, beat back repeal and get to the beginning of enrollment. We’ve accomplished our mission, so we’re moving on to the next big thing.”

HCAN—credited with being one of the most impactful progressive and grassroots organizations in the nation—represents a coalition of labor unions and community groups working with local partners in 44 states, all of whom have worked together to pass and defend Obamacare, spending some $60 million dollars in the effort.

In addition to its work to make the Affordable Care Act the law of the land, the coalition has become a national vehicle for progressive organizing, impacting heavily on the battle to expand Medicaid and protecting Medicare for the nation’s senior citizens while mounting campaigns to end tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. The group has also worked to highlight what they believe to be the corrosive role of corporations in American politics, playing a substantial role in exposing big money lobbying interests and the political activities of health care stakeholders, including the insurance industry and pharmaceutical companies.

While the work of HCAN had initially been slated to come to an end with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the opposition to the law caused the group to resolve to continue their work, on a year-to-year basis, until the law was in full force and effect and the enrollment period underway.

And today, the Washington Post’s Wonkblog section had noted researcher and health care expert Harold Pollack interview the former director of HCAN, Richard Kirsch. The full interview is worth a read:


The work of HCAN continues, even if HCAN does not.