The White House health care reform summit March 5 set a new tone and scope for the struggle to fix our broken system.

Health care advocates had to spend the past eight years battling Bush moves to privatize Medicare and similar schemes.

With the election of President Obama, the debate has shifted dramatically.

Participants in the summit included a wide range of “stakeholders” representing competing class interests — insurance and pharmaceutical corporations and their friends, labor unions, advocacy groups for Native Americans, Latinos, women and other consumers, health professionals and reform advocates, including supporters of single-payer national health insurance.

They expressed general agreement on the need to invest in preventive care, in more hospitals, clinics and training facilities, and in boosting the number of well-trained health care professionals.

Sharp differences emerged, however, over Obama’s proposal for including a comprehensive public health care option.

Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Scott Serota opined that a public option would be unfair competition for private insurers. “The private market might not exist if there is a public option,” he complained.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) fired back that the insurance companies are responsible for the current system’s out-of-control costs and its refusal to cover tens of millions of people adequately. SEIU leader Dennis Rivera argued that competition between private and public insurance would be beneficial, saying, “That competition is going to drive the cost down.”

How ironic. “Free market” promoters usually insist that private industry is more efficient and provides better service. Serota seems to be admitting that this is not so for health care — otherwise, why are he and fellow insurance execs so afraid of competing with a public plan?

We support “Medicare for All” as put forward in Rep. John Conyers’ HR 676. And we agree with advocates for a strong government health care plan as an essential part of any meaningful reform package. Aside from providing efficient, comprehensive coverage, it will force private insurers to compete in a way that pushes down costs for everyone. And it will demonstrate that health care can be liberated from the corporations that profit from illness. Thus it will be a giant step toward a national single-payer plan that puts health care before profits and gets rid of the bloated and wasteful private insurance companies altogether.

Winning a comprehensive public health insurance option this year will be a major battle. Health industry vested interests are fighting tooth-and-nail to hold on to their profit gravy train, at the expense of Americans’ health.

Everyone should get involved. in this struggle. Your life depends on it.