Editor’s Note: Over the past several months in our coverage of the health-reform debate, we have focused mostly on the fight over a public option, which would allow some Americans to buy insurance through a government-run program.

In this guest essay, however, Vermont-based journalist Rosemarie Jackowski says the only true solution to the American health-care problem is a full-scale single-payer system that guarantees all Americans humane health care when they need it:

Was Edith in some desolate third world country? No, she was in the United States.

Was Edith in an isolated location, far from medical help? No, she was in the Emergency Room of a California hospital.

Was this tragedy caused by the fact that she might not have had health insurance? Maybe. Was the problem that she was sick while being Hispanic? Could be.

News reports have painted a picture that is difficult to think about. Edith writhing in pain in the Emergency Room -- falling out of the wheel chair, vomiting blood while lying on the cold Emergency Room floor, excruciating pain, a possible bowel perforation -- the janitorial staff cleaning the floor around her limp body, while the medical staff ignored the pleas for help from her family.

The United States has many excellent doctors and nurses. This is not meant to be a condemnation of all medical personnel. It is meant to be a condemnation of the system, a system that has lost any hint of humanity.

Why did no one help Edith? What mistake did Edith make that caused this tragedy? Was this death-by-geography?

If Edith had been almost anywhere else in the industrialized world, she probably would still be alive. She died because she was in the United States. Living in the U.S. can be hazardous to your health. This is a nation that puts profits before patients; capitalism before compassion.

The United States is in crisis. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. ranks 37th, just above Slovenia in overall health system performance. In life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 49th, just above Guam. 

Sadly, Edith Rodriguez is not alone. In the United States 45,000 die every year from lack of medical care. That is like having fifteen 9/11s every year.

In a way, it is worse than 9/11 because these are needless deaths that we are imposing on ourselves. These deaths will continue until there is a strong grassroots movement for a universal, single-payer health care system.

Think that the Democrats or the Republicans will change things? Think again.

Both political parties have been bought and paid for by the lobbyists. It is the lobbyists for the pharmaceutical companies, the HMOs, the insurance companies, and the for-profit medical centers who lurk through the halls of Congress and help write the legislation.

Because the profits from health care are so enormous, there have been active campaigns to preserve and protect insurance companies.

Congress is buried in a myriad of health care proposals that are unnecessarily complicated. Every word of legalese is one more opportunity to deny care. The proposals thus far would require that a patient going to the hospital for a tonsillectomy would need to be accompanied by a team of accountants and  lawyers. 

The ideal health care plan will be short and sweet -- no more than 10 pages written in everyday language. 

The goal of the ideal plan is not to manage health care -- that should be left to doctors and patients. The goal of the government in any health care plan should be simply to manage the funding.

The rule is -- if it is medically necessary, it is covered. This includes dental, vision and long-term care. There will be no more medically related bankruptcies.

Extortion by Insurance Company lobbyists must end. We need a single-payer system immediately. One big advantage of single-payer is that it will treat everyone as an equal. Everyone will finally have the same health care as that which the members of Congress and the President have. That is an important protection for ordinary people. 

Single-payer will save lives, but it also will save money.

The exorbitant salaries of Insurance Company CEOs will be eliminated. The profit motive for investors will be eliminated. Administrative costs will be reduced because one single payer will replace a large number of insurance companies -- all with different forms, different standards, and different requirements for an endless stream of mind-numbing paper work.  

Single-payer will save money. Repeating, single-payer will save money.
 Health care by Wall Street standards does not work. Just ask the family of Edith Rodriguez.

Rosemarie Jackowski is a peace activist and an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. Her e-mail is dissent@sover.net

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