In August of 2003, the Physicians National Health Plan was proposed in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Then endorsed by 7,782 doctors (now well over 15,000), the deans and faculties of many of America's medical schools, and two former Surgeons General, the plan described a comprehensive proposal for a single-payer, national health care system.

Subsequently, Congressman John Conyers of Michigan introduced the plan as legislation in House bill HR 676. There it languished under a Republican-dominated House until its recent re-introduction.

The executive summary of the legislation can be found on the website of PNHP.

In brief, it is virtually total cradle-to-grave care. It includes office visits, hospital stays, surgery, prescription drugs, eye care, dental care, psychiatric care, long-term nursing care, chiropractic care, substance abuse treatment, and provision of durable medical equipment. The only thing it does not cover is elective cosmetic surgery.

Employers would pay a 3.3% payroll tax (the average cost to them today is 8.5%) while employees would pay a 1.45% Medicare payroll tax to cover the cost of the program. Mechanisms would be provided so that higher income brackets might pay more than lower ones, and additional revenues would be obtained through a small tax (about 1/2 of 1%) on stock and bond transactions.

The program would be run through existing Medicare offices and require no new Federal agency or expense. Moreover, provisions would be provided for cost containment and adequate reimbursement of medical services. It is estimated that the savings in insurance-related paperwork would be over $150 billion annually, and that bulk buying would save another $50 billion annually.

One of the serendipitous effects of the PNHP plan is that it would provide a national medical data base for research and investigation. Such a base would be invaluable to the field of community medicine, epidemiology, tracking the spread of diseases, identifying localized or transient health anomalies, etc.

Of course, the opposition to this and similar ideas comes from the pharmaceutical, insurance, and attendant medical lobbies which now contribute heavily to Congressional elections so that laws may be written to benefit them.

But the market-driven system has proven so rife with greed and so unable to treat millions upon millions of Americans that the need for a change has become palpable. The United States is one of the very few industrialized nations without a national health plan. The market-driven system has made our average medical costs the greatest in the world, yet we lag behind many other nations in critical areas like life expectancy and infant mortality.

Surely the time has come to make America's promise of "life" as well as "liberty and happiness" a reality beyond the slogans of our history. Medical care is a human right which ought not be subject to the forces of greed.

It is up to all of us to help Congress enact the Physicians National Health Plan.