03/22/2007 04:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Clean Money Bill Would Help Push for Real Healthcare Reform

Ever wonder why it's so hard to pass real healthcare reform?

A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that 64% of Americans said the government should guarantee health insurance for all, and 55% identified it as the top domestic priority for Congress and the President.

Yet most of the plans proposed by the politicians reinforce a multi-tiered health care system with as many standards of care as there are dollars to purchase them, and further lock us into a private insurance-based model that holds our health hostage to the HMOs and big insurance companies for years to come.

Here's 2.3 billion reasons why - the nearly $2.3 billion was spent on federal lobbying from July 2005 through June 2006, much of it by the healthcare industry. Very little of that was devoted to promoting healthcare for all.

Here's another 10.8 billion reasons - the $10.8 billion in profits made by the 20 largest HMOs in the U.S., in 2005. It's a safe bet that when it comes to campaign contributions to your local Congress member of Senator, your HMO is able to write a larger check than you.

While campaigning for the only genuine solution to our healthcare crisis - HR 676 in Congress and similar Medicare for all style bills in various states - there's another important step we can take to drain the swamp in Congress.

On Wednesday, Senators Richard Durbin (D-Il) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa) introduced the Fair Elections Now Act which would establish a clean money elections system for Congress. Based on a highly successful, popular election reform in Arizona and Maine, the proposal provides for voluntary public financing for candidates who choose to run "clean"--disavowing the big checks that pervert and corrupt our electoral system.

As Nick Nyhart, president of the reform group Public Campaign aptly put it, "this is a bold effort to turn the big money culture of Washington upside down."

In the last election cycle, the California Nurses Association sponsored an initiative to implement a similar system in California. Though we were not successful - 29 insurance companies contributed money to defeat the initiative, obviously fearful of seeing their stranglehold on healthcare policy eroded - the issue has hardly gone away.

The intent of the new federal bill is the same. To take our democracy off the auction block and put the voters back in charge. To end the disgraceful cycle where wealthy interests write big checks to politicians, and get favors in return in the form of corporate tax breaks, pork barrel projects, and special interest legislation. To curb the hijacking of our political process that results in higher charges at the pump, contaminated food, rising chronic asthma rates from polluted air, shoddy products, and the burial of reforms needed to address global warming.

And, of course, to transform a dysfunctional health care system in which insurance premiums have risen 87 percent this decade, prescription drug prices cost 35 to 55 percent more expensive than other nations, and growing numbers of insured, middle class families have to hold garage sales or church suppers to pay outrageous medical bills.