In 1999, then-State Senator Barack Obama invoked the late radical Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who passed away in 1996, to promote a universal health care law he co-sponsored and which Illinois voters had overwhelmingly rejected.
The bill incorporated language directly from the late cardinal’s 1995 pastoral letter, “A Sign of Hope,” which argued for a “fundamental right” to healthcare, reading, in part: “Health care is an essential safeguard of human life and dignity, and there is an obligation for society to ensure that every person be able to realize that right.”
Supporters of single payer health care, like Dr. Quentin Young of Physicians for a National Health Program, understood Bernardin to be calling for a government takeover of health care. "Cardinal Bernardin wrote on the moral questions we're talking about," Dr. Young told the Palm Beach Post on January 4, 1998. “His concept was that human dignity requires an ethic that assures health care to all people in a society.”
Supporters of the so-called “Bernadin Amendment” quickly roped in Dr. Warren Furey, the cardinal’s personal physician and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Mercy Hospital.
The law, had it passed, would have forced the state to enact a plan that, in the Orwellian words of the Chicago Tribune, “permits everyone in Illinois to obtain decent health care on a regular basis by 2002.”
Obama’s co-sponsor in the state House of Representatives was State Representative Mike Boland. In campaigning for universal health care, Boland told the Chicago Tribune that “he is writing to every labor union local and every church in the state in search of endorsements.”