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Our History of Single-Payer Activism


Public Citizen’s Health Research Group affirms that access to high- quality health care is the right of every citizen. “A major effort must be devoted to insuring high quality health care as the right of every citizen.”
-Address by Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, to the Third National Consumer Health Conference – Feb. 25, 1972, Boston, Mass.


Public Citizen founder Ralph Nader tells House Ways and Means Committee:
“Americans deserve and need comprehensive, accessible, quality medical care at a reasonable cost.”


Dr. Sidney Wolfe, co-founder of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, calls on lawmakers to enact a single-payer system to ensure maximum coverage and reduce wasted funds. “The real emergency, then, is the need for passage of a National Health Plan which provides universal, accessible, prevention- oriented health care with adequate publicly accountable controls over cost and quantity.”
-Testimony of Dr. Sidney Wolfe before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Health: Health Insurance for the Unemployed


Sidney Wolfe tells ABC News: “We believe that one of the leading causes of preventable death in this country is the health care system, itself.”


Public Citizen publicizes two reports highlighting the problem of administrative waste in the U.S. health care system and calling for a single-payer system. The first, published in the May 2 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, documents a dramatic increase in the cost of health administration in the mid-1980s and shows that between 1983 and 1987, those costs rose $118 per capita. An accompanying report, by Public Citizen's Health Research Group, updates the estimates for 1991 and provides a state-by-state breakdown of potential savings on health bureaucracy, as well as the number of people who are uninsured. It concludes that states could save nearly three-quarters of the cost of administrative overhead if they adopted a single-payer system.


Dr. Sidney Wolfe issues a statement concerning the Universal Health Care Act of 1992 in support of a single-payer U.S. health care system. He says, “as a result of excessive administrative waste, within the insurance industry itself and foisted upon doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers, more money is being wasted on paperwork than would be necessary to provide health coverage for the 40+ million uninsured and the 40 to 50 million more underinsured.”


Dr. Sidney Wolfe issues a statement on President Bill Clinton’s health care proposal, arguing against the plan and saying that a single-payer system is preferable: “The Clinton health care proposal which has been made public in the last week is a cruel fraud for the American people who, ultimately, through grassroots groups such as those speaking here today, will reject the plan and instead opt for a simpler, more affordable and more humane single payer system.”


Dr. Sidney Wolfe issues a statement concerning a JAMA article on “A Better Quality Alternative: Single Payer National Health Reform by the Physicians for a National Health Program Working Group.” In support of the article, he argues that “the ten-point list of quality principles which the Physicians for a National Health Program study group is publishing clearly shows how a single-payer plan, modeled on the Canadian system, will improve quality. This contrasts sharply with all of the other national health insurance proposals which, by virtue of strengthening the hand of the health insurance industry, will worsen quality even more than the not-so-invisible hands of the market have already done.”



Public Citizen and Physicians for a National Health Program release a report, “Administrative Waste in the U.S. Health Care System in 2003,” documenting the state-by-state potential administrative savings achievable with national health insurance . The report states, “In 2003 the U.S. will spend $399.4 billion ($1,389 per capita) on health bureaucracy, out of total expenditures of $1660.5 billion ($5,775 per capita). The states could save $286.0 billion dollars in 2003 if they streamlined administration to Canadian levels by adopting a single-payer national health insurance system. The potential savings are equivalent to at least $6,940 for each of the 41.6 million Americans uninsured in 2001.”


A study by Public Citizen and Harvard Medical School is published in the International Journal of Health Services. It finds that national health insurance (NHI) could save at least $286 billion annually on paperwork, enough to cover all of the uninsured and to provide full prescription drug coverage for everyone in the United States.


In comments submitted for the federally-funded Health Report to the American People, Public Citizen argues for a single-payer system, saying that single-payer is good for business, has significantly lower administrative costs, facilitates quality control, gives the government greater power to control costs, promotes greater accountability to the public, and fosters transparency in coverage decisions.


Public Citizen joins the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care, saying that a single-payer national health insurance program is the only viable solution to our health care crisis. The statement says, “The estimated 20,000 people who die each year because of a lack of health insurance will rise faster than we could have feared. Also, illness due to a lack of health care only feeds the cycle of missed work days and lost jobs, reducing our economic productivity. Our country cannot recover from this recession if we become sicker with every passing year.”
-Statement of James Floyd, M.D., Health Researcher, Public Citizen

May 22: Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, appears on Bill Moyers with Dr. David Himmelstein of Physicians for a National Health Program to discuss the health insurance industry, the Affordable Care Act and single-payer healthcare.

June 24: Dr. Sidney Wolfe testifies before House lawmakers in favor of single-payer health care.

July 30: Public Citizen organizes a press conference and participates in a rally for single-payer held in Washington, D.C. with over 2,000 doctors, nurses, medical students, lawmakers and activists from across the nation. Dr. Sidney Wolfe spoke at the rally, proclaiming that “President Obama said that if we really want everyone to have health coverage, the only way to do that is with a single-payer system. That’s what he says, but that’s not what he does… If you really believe in everybody in [the health care system] and nobody out, you have to get rid of the private health insurance industry.”


November 15: Public Citizen urges activists to tell Congress to vote for a single-payer proposal.

December 3: Public Citizen helps organize a call-in campaign, asking supporters to contact their senators and urge them to vote for a single-payer system.

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