By Deborah Sederberg for the News Dispatch

MICHIGAN CITY — It was a small sample, but the response was overwhelmingly positive.

In early September, The News-Dispatch published a story about Dr. Rade Pejic’s presentation to Michigan City Rotary on his support for a single-payer national health care program. The paper also carried a copy of Pejic’s survey on the merits (or lack of them) of a one-payer system. Of the 41 responses, 95 percent favored a single-payer system.

A couple of respondents indicated they prefer a neutral not-for-profit as the payer, rather than the federal government.

“If there’s any way to screw up anything, the government will do it,” wrote one man.

At the Rotary meeting, local accountant Ed Lysaught said the government already provides 60 percent of health care benefits in the U.S., covering the armed services and their families, as well as veterans, Medicare and Medicaid recipients, and government employees.

Although Pejic would never describe himself as a liberal, he does defend the government’s operation of Medicare and he believes an expansion of and some improvement of Medicare might be the way to go for a one-payer national health care system.

The Chicago-based Physicians for a National Heath Program, of which Pejic is a member, believes Medicare is a viable option as well.

Dr. Quentin Young, the volunteer national coordinator for PNHP and a frequent guest on radio and television talk shows, in a telephone interview Friday said the poverty level among people over 65 today is about 16 percent. “But without Medicare, it would be at least twice as high.” A neighbor and friend of President Obama, Young has talked with the president about universal health care many times, dating to the time when Obama was an Illinois state senator. “And I know he favored a single-payer plan,” Young said.

But the bill that came out of Congress likely will leave some 20 million Americans uninsured while enriching the pockets of the already-rich insurance giants, Pejic said. “The HMOs love the health care legislation,” he added.

That’s not quite half the number of uninsured Americans today. The latest figures indicate that some 50.3 million have no health insurance.

“And many more, about 20 million, are under-insured,” Pejic said.

Another problem cited by Pejic is this: “Nobody knows the true cost of health care,” he said.

As an example, he said, a hospital might charge $9,000 for a surgical procedure, but one insurance company may pay only $6,000 while another might pay $7,000. Medicaid might pay just $5,000.

While national experts estimate the cost of health care in the U.S. at somewhere between $2.3 trillion and $2.4 trillion, Pejic said he doesn’t believe the numbers because he doesn’t know which numbers are being added.

Pejic believes the country could save billions by eliminating waste, fraud, duplication of services, unnecessary procedures and what Pejic calls “unnecessary profiteering.”

Referring to insurance executives, Young said, “They get obscene rewards (in salaries and bonuses).”

Dr. Vidya Kora, a internist who founded the Franklin Clinic, like Pejic, also believes one-payer universal health care would be best for the country. Kora, former La Porte County Coroner and former chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, has worked closely with state and national physician groups, including the Indiana State Medical Association, where he served as president, to build a consensus on national health care.

The Obama bill is not perfect, he says, “but it does address in a very substantial way, access to care and affordability.”

In addition, the new law will keep watch over insurance profiteering, Kora said. For example, if a company spends less than 80 percent of the premiums paid by a group of policy holders on medical care, that insurance company must make reimbursements to policy holders.

Kora recommends checking the Kaiser Family Foundation site at www.krr.org for understandable explanations of many issues connected to the new health care bill.

“I have done a lot of speaking on health care reform and I have done a lot of traveling,” Kora said. His travels and the people he has met in his travels have convinced him that the country does not yet have the political will for a one-payer system.

Pejic, on the other hand, believes the country must move to a one-payer plan, “because we just cannot sustain the cost of health care as it is.”

Pejic, who has been invited to speak about health care reform in Austin, Texas, said he is willing to talk with local groups. Those who are interested may contact him by e-mail at rpejicmd@gmail.com.