07/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

What Americans Want: National Health Insurance

It doesn't have to be this way. A video of a woman dying in a Brooklyn hospital waiting room after nearly 24 hours waiting for treatment is just one more heartbreaking piece of evidence that our health care system is not only broken, it has become a hazard.

Few Americans needed more evidence. We know our health care system is broken, and a majority of us know what to do about it, even though our views are largely absent from the mainstream news and the political debate.

The 47 million without health insurance know they may not be able to see a doctor or get admitted to a hospital when they need help.

Those who do have health insurance know that deductibles, exceptions, and limits can quickly bring out-of-pocket costs for an illness or injury beyond their means. In the upcoming issue of YES! magazine, we report that 68 percent of bankruptcies are caused by medical bills among those with insurance.

Health coverage forces people to stay with jobs they don't like and to compromise on getting the care they need. Thirty percent of those surveyed in a November 2007 Gallup poll put off getting treatment they needed because of cost.

The system is not working for those paying the insurance premiums, either. Businesses have seen premiums more than double since 2000. And we aren't getting much bang for all these bucks. In the YES! Fall 2006 "Health Care for All," we reported that Americans spend twice per capita as much as other industrialized countries, yet our life expectancy is lower than 27 countries. Little wonder, since having private insurance costs us an estimated 25 cents for each health care dollar for the additional paperwork and bureaucracy, fat CEO pay packages, marketing, and profits.

Although the national political season has seen few mentions of national health insurance, that is exactly what a majority of Americans say they want. Here are the figures:
  • In a CNN News poll, 55 percent preferred a system "administered by the government and paid for by taxpayers" -- just 29 wanted to hold on to the current private insurance system that leaves some without coverage.
  • When asked: "Do you think the government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes?" 64 percent said yes.
  • And Americans are impatient for change; 17 percent of those polled by Gallup at the end of 2007 said the rising cost of health care is a crisis; another 56 percent called it a "major problem." Listen up, candidates. That's a total of 73 percent.

Support for national health insurance is not coming just from the progressives who all along have supported Representative John Conyers' single-payer health care bill. (Single-payer means the government provides the insurance, but health care services remain as they are -- combinations of private, public, and non-profit.)

Support is also coming from people across the political spectrum and the country. In her upcoming piece in YES! magazine, Daina Saib talks to physicians like Dr. Rocky White, who tell her: "Any time a state has studied it, they find that single-payer is the most cost-effective and covers everyone." Dr. White is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program, but he is also pressing for action in his state of Colorado, hoping that when the states lead the way, national policy will follow as it did in Canada.

Daina also talks to entrepreneur, Jack Lohman, a lifelong Republican and co-founder of Business Owners for Single Payer, who tells her: "For the same 16 percent of GDP that we are spending on health care in the U.S., we could provide first-class health care to 100 percent of the people." And a single-payer system would "get health care off the backs of corporations so they can be more competitive with products made overseas."

In an election season, you often see candidates run for the middle, and ignore proposals that seem risky -- even if they are the best policies. That's the reason YES! magazine will be focusing on a "purple agenda" during this election season. Instead of concentrating solely on the candidates' platforms, the next issue of YES! will look at what the American people are supporting. When we are clear on what we want, we have a much better chance of getting people elected who can be held accountable.

It turns out many of the things Americans want do not fall along polarized "red/blue" lines; we tend to be pragmatists first of all. And, as with single-payer health care, it turns out many of our proposals are fair, smart, and do-able.