On Sept. 3, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced HR 3000, the United States Universal Health Service Act. This bill, or one very similar to it, has been introduced every year in Congress since 1973. HR 3000 would establish a United States Health Service, which would eliminate profit-making from health care, because the entire system would be owned and controlled by the public, and administered primarily at the local level, along the lines of elected school boards.

To date, Congress has failed to provide a viable solution to the health crisis for the approximately 70 million Americans who lack insurance coverage, and therefore access to health care, for all or part of each year. Lee’s bill would make high-quality preventive, acute, and long-term care available to everyone, regardless of income, employment status, or previous health status. In addition, the Health Service Act would establish:

• “health team schools” in every region of the nation, aggressively pursuing an affirmative action policy for student recruitment

• a very strong patient bill of rights, which includes an enforcement mechanism

• a nationwide system of patient advocates

• research, wellness, and community-based public health programs integrated into the health care system

• a nationwide system of health clinics in or near worksites.

Currently, lack of access to health care directly impacts the welfare of individuals in poor and minority communities. Of the uninsured, 56 percent are low-income. While minorities make up approximately 34 percent of the nation’s population, they comprise over half of the uninsured.

It is critical to point out that Lee’s bill would make health insurance unnecessary and obsolete, because the United States Health Service would provide health care directly to the people, and completely eliminate the wasteful, for-profit health insurance industry. “The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide universal health care,” said Lee. “We must become a health care provider, not a denier of this fundamental right.”

Initial supporters of HR 3000 are Julia Carson, (D-Ind.), Donna Christensen (D-Va.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Major Owens (D-N.Y.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

The bill has the official “short title” of the “Josephine Butler United States Health Service Act.” Daughter of sharecroppers and granddaughter of people who were enslaved, Josephine Butler (1920-1997) was one of inner-city Washington D.C.’s most respected community leaders. She helped shape nearly every major social-change initiative in Washington since the 1930s. She educated thousands of children about the hazards of air pollution a generation before the environmental movement began, and was a lifelong leader in pressing for health care reform.

We will not win the United States Health Service without a massive, prolonged struggle by working people against the corporate defenders of the current for-profit health care industry. However, as Josephine Butler was fond of saying, “It’s a huge task—that’s why we have to get started.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org