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More than 2,000 doctors call for single-payer health system

Most hospitals and clinics would remain privately owned and operated, receiving a budget from the program to cover all operating costs.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders is an advocate for a single-payer system.Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders is an advocate for a single-payer system.

A group of more than 2,000 physicians is calling for the creation of a publicly financed, single-payer national health program that would cover all Americans for all medically necessary care. The physicians voiced their support in a proposal published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

Single-payer health reform, sometimes dubbed "Medicare for all," has been a hotly debated topic in the presidential primaries, thanks in part to it being a prominent platform of Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. The new physicians' proposal, however, claims to be strictly nonpartisan.

The proposal, which was drafted by a panel of 39 leading physicians, calls for additional physicians to add their names as endorsers, and to date has signers from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

[Also: Half of Americans support Sanders' single-payer plan, but control, cost concerns remain]

Under the national health program outlined by the physicians, patients could choose to go to any doctor or hospital of their preference. Most hospitals and clinics would remain privately owned and operated, receiving a budget from the program to cover all operating costs. Physicians could continue to practice on a fee-for-service basis, or receive salaries from group practices, hospitals or clinics.

The program would be paid for by combining current sources of government health spending into a single fund with modest new taxes they claim would be fully offset by reductions in premiums and out-of-pocket spending. Co-pays and deductibles would be eliminated.

The single-payer program, they said, would save about $500 billion annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of insurance firms, and the "massive paperwork" they inflict on hospitals and doctors. The physicians also argued that the administrative savings of the streamlined system would fully offset the costs of covering the uninsured, as well as upgraded coverage for everyone else, including full coverage of prescription drugs, dental care and long-term care. Savings would also be redirected to what the group cites as "underfunded health priorities," particularly public health.

[Also: Healthcare in Democratic debate: Clinton defends Obamacare, Sanders pitches single-payer]

The study also claims the "single payer" would be in a strong position to negotiate lower prices for medications and other medical supplies, yielding additional savings and reining in costs.

Adam Gaffney, a Boston-based pulmonary disease and critical care specialist who was co-chair of the working group that produced the proposal, said in a statement that the nation was at a crossroads.

"Despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act six years ago, 30 million Americans remain uninsured, an even greater number are underinsured, financial barriers to care like co-pays and deductibles are rising, bureaucracy is growing, provider networks are narrowing, and medical costs are continuing to climb," he said. "Caring relationships are increasingly taking a back seat to the financial prerogatives of insurance firms, corporate providers, and Big Pharma. Our patients are suffering and our profession is being degraded and disfigured by these mercenary interests."

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Marcia Angell, a co-author of the proposal and member of the faculty of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement that the country "can no longer afford to waste the vast resources we do on the administrative costs, executive salaries, and profiteering of the private insurance system. We get too little for our money. It's time to put those resources into real health care for everyone."

Surveys show support for single-payer national health insurance may be rising among physicians. A 2008 survey of physicians found that 59 percent supported "legislation to establish national health insurance," up from 49 percent five years earlier.

Twitter: @JELagasse