Our country has had publicly funded education since 1643, when the first public school was started in Dedham, Massachusetts. Most people think education is a basic right, so why isn't healthcare?
The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have health care as a right of citizenship. As a result, 48 million Americans have no health insurance. Fifty percent of all bankruptcies in this country are now medically related. A recent Pew research poll shows that 65 percent of Americans would like a universal health care system, (facts from Physicians for a National Health Program, PNHP.org).
So why haven't we done this already? It hasn't happened because powerful lobbyists from the health insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry don't want it to happen. They would lose their large profits. Since we have privately funded campaigns in this country, they have more clout with Congress than the American people do.
On March 21, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted by a ratio of 2 to 1 to endorse HR 676, the National Health Insurance Act of Rep. John Conyers from Michigan. The bill would create a publicly financed, privately delivered health care program that expands Medicare to all Americans.
The National Health Insurance Act would cover hospital care, office care, eye care, dental care, mental health care, long-term care and prescription drugs. By covering prevention, we would keep people out of costly emergency rooms.
How would we pay for this plan for single-payer universal health care? The bill would cost $1.86 trillion a year. The U.S. currently spends $2.3 trillion a year on health care. The savings would be from overhead costs. Medicare has 3 percent overhead costs, private insurance has 20 percent overhead costs. Canada's system has 1 percent overhead costs. We would also save money be allowing Medicare to negotiate with the drug companies for lower prices. There would be a 3 percent payroll tax on employers, and we would have to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. There would be a 5 percent health tax for the top 5 percent of income earners.
Our country needs "Medicare for all" and we need it now. I urge our Maine legislators to follow the lead of New Hampshire and endorse HR 676, the National Health Insurance Act. I urge you to write or call your Congressmen and Senators to speak up for the right to single-payer universal health care.
Kathryn Bourgoin, MD, of Orono is a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for a National Health Program
© 2007 The Bangor Daily News