Public education has long been considered a basic resource essential to our country’s well-being and its continued economic growth, as well as to its pledge of equal opportunity for all. While the concept of a free public education has been increasingly challenged in recent times, the fundamental reasoning remains intact.

But the health of the American people, surely just as basic to the country’s well-being and economic growth — to say nothing of individual welfare — has yet to be recognized as a basic resource to be publicly assured.

With the end of the Bush administration, which did its best to destroy the meager public health resources serving the most destitute, and the inauguration of an Obama administration pledged to health care reform, a new opportunity is at hand to give health its proper standing as a vital public resource.

Nor is this abstract “do-goodism.” Among many observers who have cited the relation of health care and economic well-being is Michigan Governor

Jennifer Granholm, whose state is in the bulls-eye of the current meltdown. She said last month that it is necessary to “figure out how we’re going to provide health care in this country to make our industries — not just the auto industry — competitive with the industries of other nations when those nations provide health care.”

One fundamental reform would institute a national single-payer system cutting out private insurers, thus saving the nearly one-third of health care expenditures now wasted on unnecessary administrative costs. Single payer is currently represented in Congress by HR 676, introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) with great support from labor and other people’s movements.

The National Nurses’ Organizing Committee/California Nurses’ Association has just released a study showing single payer would “provide a major stimulus for the U.S. economy by creating 2.6 million new jobs and infusing $317 billion in new business and public revenues, with another $100 billion in wages into the U.S. economy.”

What better moment than now, to finally recognize health care as a basic resource, a human right and an economic necessity?