The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Steffie Woolhandler, M.D.
Oliver Fein, M.D.
Mark Almberg, PNHP, (312) 782-6006,

Doctors to Candidates: Enact Single-Payer Health Reform


Over 5,000 U.S. physicians have signed an
open letter calling on the candidates for president and Congress "to
stand up for the health of the American people and implement a
nonprofit, single-payer national health insurance system."

Noting that the nation's private-insurance-based model is failing by
denying needed medical care to millions, wasting resources and driving
up costs, the doctors say that a publicly financed system is "the sole
hope for affordable, comprehensive coverage."

"A single-payer health system could realize administrative savings
of more than $300 billion annually - enough to cover the uninsured and
to eliminate co-payments and deductibles for all Americans," they
write, adding that it would also slow cost increases.

Dr. Oliver Fein, a professor of clinical medicine and public health
at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and a signer of the
letter, said today, "With the sudden economic downturn, more people
than ever before are worried about how to pay for health care. A
single-payer system - an improved Medicare for all - would lift those
worries, provide care to all who need it and require no new money. It's
the only morally and fiscally responsible approach to take."

In their letter, the physicians express disappointment that most U.S.
political leaders still cling to the private health insurance industry
model of financing care and "seem intent on reprising failed schemes
from the past" like mandates or tax incentives.

"The incremental changes suggested by most Democrats cannot solve
our problems; further pursuit of market-based strategies, as advocated
by Republicans, will exacerbate them," they say. "What needs to be
changed is the system itself."

The letter is being circulated by Physicians for a National Health
Program, a single-payer advocacy group. Fein is the group's
president-elect. Excerpts from the appeal are being published in
full-page advertisements in the Oct. 13 editions of The New Yorker and
The Nation magazines, which arrive on newsstands this week.

Signers of the letter include some of the most prominent figures in U.S.
medicine, including leaders of professional societies in internal
medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry and public health.
Among them are Marcia Angell, M.D., senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School and past editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Bernard Lown, M.D., professor of cardiology emeritus at Harvard and Nobel laureate.

Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an associate professor of medicine at
Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the letter, said, "Physicians
have a responsibility to get to the root of a patient's medical
complaint, to make a diagnosis based on evidence. Only then can we
confidently prescribe a cure, rather than offer a consoling placebo.

"Given the repeated failure of incremental reforms like the one
under way in Massachusetts, which is already facing cost overruns and
leaving many residents uncovered, and given the increasingly obvious
failure of unfettered markets, it's clear that neither of these
traditional prescriptions for reform will work," she said. "What's
needed instead is the only treatment that has proven its effectiveness
- a single-payer plan."

The letter's release follows a survey in the Annals of Internal Medicine this spring that shows 59 percent of U.S. physicians support national health insurance, a jump of 10 percentage points from five years ago

Single-payer plans typically involve a single, publicly administered
social insurance fund that guarantees health care coverage for
everyone, much like Medicare presently does for seniors. Patients go
the doctors and hospitals of their choice; health care providers
largely remain private. Private health insurers are eliminated or their
role is substantially reduced.

A bill in Congress, the U.S. National Health Insurance Act, H.R. 676,
embodies the single-payer model. Sponsored by Rep. John Conyers Jr.
(D-Mich.), it currently has over 90 co-sponsors, more than any other
health reform proposal.

The ads in The New Yorker and The Nation announcing the physicians'
open letter feature Nicole Hollander's cartoon character Sylvia writing
a letter to Congress.

The full text and initiating signers of the "Open Letter to the Candidates on Single Payer Health Reform" are available at

The complete list of signers is available at

A PDF of the full-page, four-color ad that is appearing in the pages of The New Yorker and The Nation can be found at

Physicians for a National Health Program is a single issue organization advocating a universal, comprehensive single-payer national health program. PNHP has more than 21,000 members and chapters across the United States.