“America’s trillion-dollar health care system would be far more efficient if all the money spent on administrative costs and insurance profit went directly to health care. There’s only one way to do that effectively: single-payer coverage administered by the federal government.” Thus spoke the Roanoke Times and World News in a May 7 editorial. The newspaper joins New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Charles (W. Va.) Gazette, and the Des Moines Register and many other papers in calling for single-payer health care.

Universal coverage for all medically necessary care

Activism for single-payer health care is rising. The Baltimore and Erie, Pa., city councils passed resolutions calling on their state’s congressional delegations to work for HR 676. Gloria Steinem put “contacting your congressperson to urge support for HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All” on her feminist to-do list.

HR 676, introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), would extend coverage to everyone in the country, include payment for all medically necessary care including prescriptions, mental health, vision, dental, nursing home, rehab, home health, hospital, diagnostic, physical therapy and physician care. It would save $300 billion per year in unnecessary administrative costs — more than enough to extend coverage to the 45 million currently uninsured. It would end co-pays and deductibles, thereby removing financial barriers to preventive care. This would end the delays that cost so much in suffering and lives as well as money.

New labor endorsements

Endorsements of HR 676 are growing within the union movement. New endorsers in recent months include the American Guild of Musical Artists, Chicago/Midwest Region; the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 84, Pittsburgh; International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 794, Albuquerque, N.M.; the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, San Jose, Calif.; Local 1375, United Steelworkers; Warren, Ohio; and United Auto Workers Community Action Programs in Southern Indiana and 3rd and 4th areas of Kentucky.

Single-payer health care advocates are getting some traction, and a nation hurting from lack of insurance and care is listening. Vermont’s House of Representatives has voted for a single-payer bill. California state Sen. Sheila Keuhl (D-Santa Monica) is gaining support for her single-payer bill SB 840. The Campaign for a National Health Program NOW, a national group supporting HR 676, has launched citizen/congressional hearings planned for more than 70 cities. Fifty members of Congress have signed on to HR 676, including 11 new co-sponsors.

Insurance industry fights back

But a group of 24 self-designated “health care leaders” has been meeting secretly since last October to come up with alternative proposals to cover the uninsured, according to a New York Times report. The group includes America’s Health Insurance Plans, UnitedHealth Group, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, together with a few liberal organizations.

E. Neil Trautwein, assistant vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said the group assumed that health care would continue to be provided through a mix of private insurers and public programs and was “not biased in favor of big government solutions.” That means they are biased in favor of maintaining private, profit-making health insurance and HMOs.

Trautwein is the last person the nation should consult for health care solutions. He once stated, “There is no right to health care. If this issue gets cast that way, it’s unfair, and it kind of makes us look like the bad guys.”

One of the initiators of the group of 24 is William W. McGuire, president and CEO of UnitedHealth Group, Inc. McGuire, who raked in over $42 million in total compensation in 2003, has good reason to push private insurance solutions. So does America’s Health Insurance Plans. But the vast majority of us have every reason to shun any alliance with the insurance industry and to make common cause with the rest of our community to win universal single-payer health insurance.