When Dr. Jerry Sielaff practiced medicine in rural Iowa, a local farmer came in to get treated for a foot injury. Sielaff says the man -- who slipped his foot into a corn auger -- needed surgery.
"Nope, just wrap it up, Doc," the farmer told Sielaff. "It'll be fine."
In his career, Sielaff has seen many people opt out of needed treatment they couldn't afford, he told a crowd of several hundred people at the First Unitarian Society Wednesday night. "In this country, that should not happen. In this country, we don't ration water or police or fire protection."
The forum, sponsored by the Dane County Grassroots Network, was held to draw attention to the push for national health coverage.
Three of the speakers -- Sielaff, Dr. Aaron Dunn, and economics professor John Simonson -- argued that a single-payer system was the best solution. Sielaff explained that a single-payer system is a national insurance program that all citizens pay into through taxes, based on their ability, but everyone gets the same coverage.
"We can insure all 300 million of us for the same $2.4 trillion we're paying now. We'd all be covered," Sielaff said. "The doctors can go back to treating people instead of filling out paper work. There's one person to bill -- the single payer."
Simonson, a UW-Platteville professor who ran for state Senate a few years ago, says that a single-payer system would help save money, by spreading risk through the large pool of taxpayers and encourage efficiency. "Scarcity implies resources have to be used efficiently," he said. "And we know they're not."
A uniform payment system would also help alleviate the problem of doctor shortages in some areas. Under the current system, Simonson says, "doctors go where the money is."
But not all of the speakers sang the mantra of a single-payer system. The Rev. Kent Mayfield of First Baptist Church said he wasn't convinced a single-payer system would solve the country's woes and doubted we'd get such a system.
"We will have a public plan," he said. "But the premiums of the public plan will not be allowed to undercut the private plans."
"We are in the mess we intended to be in because of capitalism," Mayfield said. What was needed was desire for a social contract. "I'm not convinced anything we do in terms of legislation is going to work unless we rework those social arrangements of collective good."