By Ricardo Kaulessar for Hudson Reporter

Jersey City resident Bill Armbruster was laid off in February from his job as editor of a newsletter called the Shipping Digest, but he got to keep his health plan until August of 2010.

But he worries what will happen when his coverage expires.

“If I try to buy insurance on the private market, I would probably have to pay at least $1,000 a month – if I could get it, and I doubt that I could,” Armbruster said. “That’s because I have neuropathy, a nerve disease, and the insurers don’t like to sell insurance to people with a pre-existing condition.”

He added, “At that point, I’ll be 61 – four years before I would be eligible for Medicare in August. I could be forced into bankruptcy if I get seriously ill or have a serious accident.”

This nightmare scenario could be allayed, according to Armbruster, if the United States had a single-payer health care system. Under the single-payer system, the government would pay for health care, much as it does with Medicare.

That system would be implemented if Congress was ever to pass The United States National Health Care Act (HR 676), a bill that would expand and improve Medicare to 100 percent of all necessary medical care, including dental and psychiatric care and long-term care for everyone in the United States, with no deductibles and no co-pays.

It would be funded by a payroll tax of 4.5 per cent from employers and 3.3 per cent from employees, plus one third of one percent of all stock transactions.

The care still would be delivered by private doctors and health professionals. This system would also eliminate the need for many, if not all, private health care insurance companies.

HR 676 currently has the endorsement of over 75 members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, who represents Jersey City and Bayonne. But it does not have the backing of the most important politician of them all – President Barack Obama.

Armbruster is among local residents who have been pushing for support for the bill.

Single payer has its advocates

Physicians for a National Health Program, a Chicago-based non-profit organization of 16,000 physicians, medical students, and health professionals, has advocated for single-payer national health insurance based on several findings:

– The U.S. is tops amongst industrialized countries in the amount spent on health care, $8,135 per person, yet 47 million people nationwide are without health coverage.

– Private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consumes 31 per cent of every health care dollar.

– Payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $350 billion per year, they say.

A recent study commissioned by the California Nurses Association found that improvements to Medicare to make it a single-payer plan would create 2.6 million new jobs, infuse $317 billion in new business and public revenues, and inject another $100 billion in wages into the U.S. economy.

But advocates aren’t just engaged in academic research to support their cause. Scheduled for this weekend is a National Day of Action on Saturday in various cities such as New York, organized by a coalition of non-profits, to call for the single-payer system. And on Sunday, a conference on single-payer health care will be held in Princeton.

This activity will be the latest of several to spotlight the issue. A more extreme event took place earlier this month during a protest at a Congressional hearing on health care reform that led to the arrest of 13 health professionals, who took issue with single-payer advocates being shut out of the hearing.

Not everyone feels good

President Obama has addressed the single payer issue in recent months, most famously at a town hall meeting in New Mexico on May 14 when an attendee asked about why single-payer is not a priority for the White House and Congress.

“If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense,” the president responded.

However, Obama then laid out his opposition to single-payer, stating, “The only problem is that we’re not starting from scratch. We have historically a tradition of employer-based health care. And although there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with their health care, the truth is, is that the vast majority of people currently get health care from their employers and you’ve got this system that’s already in place.”

Instead, Obama is working with Congress on a comprehensive health care reform bill that could be unveiled as early as next month allowing for private and public health care options.

Ironically, when Obama was a U.S. Senator in 2003, he was a strong advocate for the single-payer system.

Obama is also helped by a grassroots campaign known as Healthcare for Americans Now (HCAN), made up of progressive groups and unions across the country backing Obama on his health care plan. Among the backers locally is the Hudson County Central Labor Council AFL-CIO out of Jersey City.

But the health insurance lobby wants to torpedo any health care reform plan that takes corporations out of equation. The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics found health care corporation lobbyists have spent over $130 million in the first three months of 2009 on opposition advertising.

Seeing it from both sides

Bayonne resident Doreen DiDomenico is the chairperson of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders, which voted in January to support HR 676.

She is also Dr. DiDomenico, a licensed psychologist who works at Rutgers University’s Anxiety Disorders Clinic in Piscataway, and also specializes in developmental disabilities such as autism.

DiDomenico said in an interview last week that when she voted to support HR 676, she did not have an opportunity to research the single-payer issue, which she called “controversial,” and is open to any new health care system that works for both patient and doctor.

“I work at a clinic that is out-of-network for my patients, which means the reimbursement is much lower, but that is because of a multitude of health care insurance plans making it cumbersome to do my job,” DiDomenico said. “I have to make a living, but I don’t want patients to be in distress because of their health care plan.”

DiDomenico continued, “Something has to be done, especially in one of the most advanced nations in the world.”

DiDomenico remembered a close friend who put off getting checked for continuous backaches and headaches because she did not have health care insurance.

“She had put it off for so long that when she finally paid out of her pocket, the doctors informed her that she had cancer, which took her pretty quickly,” DiDomenico said.

To find out more about the single-payer issue, visit www.healthcare-now.org or www.pnhp.org.