Health Reform: The Need for Single Payer National Health Insurance

Rethinking Health Care | EventsSpeakers | Seminars | Resources

Dr. Stephanie Woolhandler, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and founder of “Physicians for a National Health Program,” will present her lecture Health Reform: The Need for Single Payer National Health Insurance as part of the Weissman Center’s Fall 2009 series, Rethinking Healthcare on Wednesday, November 18, at 7:30 pm in Gamble Auditorium, Art Building, at Mount Holyoke College. 

The United States spends $2 trillion a year on health care, the highest per capita spending for health care in the world. Despite spending nearly twice as much on health care as residents of other nations, Americans have relatively poor health and access to health care.  Americans are dying at an earlier age than the average life expectancy for developed countries.  Life expectancy in Canada and much of Western Europe is about two years longer than in the U.S.  47 million Americans have no health insurance, and private coverage is often so full of gaps that even insured Americans often face bankruptcy in the face of a major illness.  Obesity rates are the highest of any developed country, and infant mortality deaths have not fallen as much as in most other developed countries.

The United States is the only high-income industrialized country in the world that does not have some version of health insurance to cover all its citizens.  Many other nations use non-profit national health insurance (also known as "Single-Payer" or “Medicare-for -All") to achieve universal, affordable health care. While single-payer health care systems throughout the world have varied and unique approaches to health care financing and health delivery, most provide universal coverage, give patients free choice of providers and hospitals, and guarantee coverage and equal access for all medically necessary procedures.

For nearly 100 years, U.S. presidents and Congress have tried and failed to provide health care for all.  Republic President Theodore Roosevelt was the first to call for national health insurance and universal coverage in the early 20th century, and in recent memory the Clinton administration failed to deliver on promised health care reform.  Throughout the century, powerful social justice movements championed the call for universal coverage, while public opinion has overwhelmingly supported guaranteed health care for all.  Why has universal health coverage consistently failed in the United States, and what hope is there for guaranteed health care for all in the future?  Dr. Woolhandler will probe the political, social, and economic facts and distortions surrounding single-payer health coverage and what’s at stake if the United States fails to extend comprehensive health care to all.