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US Physician Group: Universal Health Care Coverage Possible - 2003-08-13

A U.S. physician's group is proposing a universal health insurance plan for Americans.

In the United States, total spending for health insurance amounts to $1.1 trillion a year. Still, almost 41 million people do not have health insurance.

According to a new study by a group called Physicians for a National Health Program, universal health care coverage for all Americans is possible at approximately the same cost as the current system.

The report, which advocates a government-funded system of health coverage called National Health Insurance (NHI), appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Oliver Fein, president of the New York chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, says money could be saved by redirecting bureaucratic costs associated with the high number of private insurers and health maintenance organizations that medical staff must deal with for billing.

"The plan will not increase total health spending because it will reduce excessive paperwork producing enough savings we estimate to provide coverage for all 41 million uninsured Americans," he said.

The report estimates that over $200 billion could be saved by combining current government health insurance programs known as Medicare and Medicaid, maintaining employers contributions to health coverage, and instituting tax increases which could be offset by lower premiums and charges to patients at the time they see a doctor.

Fourteen percent of all Americans do not have health insurance. The problem is more acute within minority groups. Forty percent of the uninsured in the United States are African- Americans and Latinos.

Dr. Lewis Goldfrank says 100 million inadequately insured people crowd emergency rooms every year, making care for the dangerously ill less effective.

"The continuous onslaught of emergency department patients demonstrates the absence of an organized system of health care for our citizens," he emphasized. "And the significant health needs of these patients demonstrates the lack of coordination of our national health policy. The public health failure of those emergency department visits is evident to us every single day."

Advocates say the National Health Insurance plan would restore the ability of all consumers to choose their physicians, and encourage preventive care. It would cover all medications and eliminate payments many patients have to make for medical charges not covered by their insurance.

The American Medical Association is publishing the proposal in its journal, but does not support it. Instead, the AMA backs a plan that provides tax credits to the uninsured and encourages an affordable health insurance market for consumers.

Eight thousand physicians have endorsed the proposal. But Dr. Fein points out that physician support is not enough.

"What will, in fact, move this forward is the public, is people getting behind this beginning to understand that there are problems and that the solution is through some form of single-payer national health insurance program," he said.

A National Health Insurance Bill was introduced to Congress in February, which is similar to the groups' proposal except for the way the plan would be administered.