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Single-Payer Health Care: A Burning Issue

It seems we might actually be changing health care in America this time around. One way we could go would be to adopt what's called a "single-payer" system like Canada has. Under a single-payer system we would do away with the health insurance companies and one payer (the government) would cover everyone's medical bills.Advocates of a single-payer system cite many benefits: The government covers everyone so we wouldn't have insurance companies cherry-picking the healthiest people to cover, doctors wouldn't have the same crazy incentive to avoid preventative care because it isn't covered, we'd have lower administrative costs, and we'd eliminate medical bankruptcy (like other industrial countries already have).But when Obama convened his 150-person summit on health care last Thursday, there were only two advocates of a single payer system in attendance: the Columbia Medical School professor Oliver Fein and Congressman John Conyers.The idea of a single-payer system hasn't gotten much traction in the media either. A recent study from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting details how, even though a majority of Americans now wants the government to provide national health insurance, the idea has been shut out of the debate as it's played out in the major media.So it's been left to a passionate grassroots movement to promote the idea. A new group called Single Payer Action formed recently to lobby for the policy. They staged a demonstration outside of a meeting of the health insurance trade group Americas Health Insurance Plans yesterday. There was a symbolic burning of health insurance bills (photo above and Flickr set here).There are some political and philosophical objections to single-payer. The health insurance industry is a powerful lobby and single-payer health care would doom them to extinction. But insurance companies also employ thousands of regular Americans. Eliminating those jobs would be yet another shock to the economy (that was Obama's reason for ruling it out in the short term). Conservative commentators, meanwhile, oppose it with a kneejerk ideological aversion to big government.But none of those objections really challenges the assertion that a single-payer system would actually be the best way of keeping Americans healthy (and financially solvent). If our current broken health care system is too big to fail and/or too corrupt to change, then that's the problem.

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