While the one reform that could cure what ails America's health care system has attracted plenty of adherents in the House -- 72 members have signed on as backers of House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers' single-payer proposal and others back a plan introduced by Washington Democrat Jim McDermott's legislation -- there has not been a Senate proposal to rally around.
That's what makes Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' proposed "American Health Security Act of 2009" such an important piece of legislation. In addition to being the first single-payer bill introduced in the Senate since the mid-1990s -- when the late Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, sponsored a bill similar to the plan now being advanced by Sanders -- it raises the profile of the doctors, nurses, patients and other campaigners who are trying to tell the Obama administration and its congressional allies that the legislative compromises they entertain are doomed to fail.
Under the American Health Security Act of 2009:
· Patients could seek care from the doctor or hospital of their choice.
- The new national health care program would be paid for by combining current sources of government health spending into a single fund with modest new taxes amounting to less than what people now pay for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
· Funding would come from the federal government, but the program would be administered by the states.
- The high overhead and profits of the private, investor-owned insurance industry would be eliminated, along with the burdensome paperwork imposed on physicians and other providers. As a result, the plan would save at least $400 billion annually - enough money to provide comprehensive, quality care to all.
- Community health centers would be fully funded, giving the 60 million Americans now living in rural and underserved areas access to care.
- To address the critical shortage of primary care physicians and dentists, resources for the National Health Service Corps to train an additional 24,000 health professionals would be provided.
The Sanders bill stands in stark contrast to the proposals being considered by the Obama administration and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, which would establish a new public-versus-private hybrid to try and address dysfunctions in the current public-versus-private hybrid that has left more than 45 million Americans uninsured and at least that many Americans underinsured.
"This is excellent news," says Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program. "There is now a way for the Senate to help us exit the nightmare of a collapsing health care system. If this bill is enacted, we no longer have to put up with the outrageous costs that prevent millions of Americans from receiving medical care and medications. Nor will tens of thousands have to declare bankruptcy over medical bills. In the face of our present economic calamity, this is an urgent necessity."
Recalling that "President Obama once acknowledged that single-payer national health insurance was the best way to go," Young added, "We are confident that Senator Sanders' bill will accelerate the national drive for the only reform that we know will work."
Let's hope the doctor's diagnosis is right.