09/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Up Close and Personal With the U.S. Health Care System

Starting this Tuesday, August 11 and running for a full week, a nonprofit called Remote Area Medical Services and several of its L.A.-area partners, like Operation USA and Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation are hosting a free health fair at The Forum, 3900 West Manchester Blvd in Inglewood, California.

What's remarkable about this will be the many thousands of L.A.'s unemployed, medically uninsured or under-insured, who will have their eyes examined with prescription eyeglasses made for them on the spot; their teeth cared for (including extractions and even root canals); their kids thoroughly examined; women examined for all manner of women's health issues (including mammograms and pap smears); adults for diabetes, cardiovascular problems, cancer and the like; their lab work and radiology work done free; being given a modest range of medications if prescribed and available on-site; and, even receive acupuncture and chiropractic care. Those treating them will be dozens of L.A.'s best physicians, nurses and other therapists recruited for a week of volunteer community service.

It's worth all of us in or near L.A. dropping by so we can gain a better context for the raging national debate on health care. Of the now-45 million Americans who have no access to routine health care for lack of insurance and the tens of millions more whose insurance coverage borders on farcical for its limits on reimbursement and coverage, this fair will firmly convince anyone with a pulse that we need a radical restructuring of the entire health care system, starting with setting up a single payer, government regulated system. (If you think about it, we already have a single payer system as most insured people have either private or public coverage and providers agree to accept what they are paid through negotiated rates).

It's unlikely a corporatist country like the USA will jump to an exclusively government-run expansion of MediCare for everyone, but most other countries who have similar systems would not change them for the world. The blood libel of calling those countries socialist or accusing them of rationing care ("death panels" as the feckless Sarah Palin describes a government-run system) has to be countered by exposure of the "mute middle" of America to events like the one this week in LA. If they lose their jobs or their small businesses can't pay exorbitant private insurance premiums, they might be lined up at the next health fair in their own neighborhood.

A word about health insurance and President Obama's hopes for a better health care system. He won't get it from the US Congress whose members are thoroughly compromised by health industry money or a distressing willingness to compromise their principles when even a whiff of protest comes into their offices from health insurance lobbyists or other for-profit health care players. Obama needed to have a few strong "single payer" voices at his White House events and he has not done this with any visibility. I know he personally favors single payer but his unwillingness to engage the country he leads is blowing an opportunity which may not come again.