DEARBORN, Mich. — Several hundred Detroit area residents gathered here Oct. 17 to speak out on the health care crisis in the U.S. and to demand a national solution.

Organized by the Healthcare Now! coalition, sponsored by labor and community groups, and attended by elected officials, the meeting condemned the for-profit health system and called for building support for HR 676, a bill sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) which would establish a national health insurance program patterned after Medicare.

The meeting was part of a nationwide campaign that will see about 90 town hall meetings over the coming months with congressional representatives and other elected officials stressing the need to pass HR 676, a “single-payer” health plan.

According to the U.S. census, about 46 million people don’t have any insurance. One-third of the population has inadequate coverage.

Nathan Head of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists commented that both the post-World War II Japanese constitution and the new Iraqi constitution guarantee a national health care system for their people. The U.S. government heavily influenced the writing of both constitutions. “What’s wrong with us here?” he wondered.

The current system costs lives. Nurse Pam Ortner said she worked with patients who would have survived or had better health if they had had access to health care all their lives. “We need to demand that we have the same single standard of care for everyone,” she said.

Disabled people can’t get health care coverage until their disability claims are approved, said retired Social Security worker Jim Bish. Doctors would often tell these people that they would get care only when they had coverage, Bish said.

Union workers are next on the list of targets for elimination of health insurance benefits, added Detroit welfare rights activist Marian Kramer. Autoworkers and city workers are seeing their employers demand they give back benefits, she said.

David Apsey, a spokesperson for Physicians for a National Health Program, pointed out that 30 percent of the $1.8 trillion dollars spent annually on health care in the U.S. goes to pay for the industry’s corporate bureaucracy and profits.

But there is a solution, Apsey added. The basic principle of HR 676 is that everyone is covered, no one is left out. Its administrative costs would be about one-tenth of the cost of the corporate bureaucracy that administers the private system. It would provide coverage for all medical services, including dental, vision, long-term and mental health care.

HR 676 would be paid for by a payroll tax of 1.45 percent each from employers and employees. Both currently pay much higher amounts for health insurance premiums.

The bargaining power of the government would help control the outrageous prices of prescription drugs.

Lynn Williams, president of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, pointed out that a comparable system in Canada has Canadians paying only $2,200 per capita for universal health care while in the U.S., spending on health care amounts to almost $5,000 per person annually.