Posted on September 16, 2008

Small book on 'single payer' packs surprising wallop


Sept. 16, 2008

Mark Almberg, (312) 782-6006,

10 Excellent Reasons for National Health Care

Edited by Mary E. O‘Brien, M.D., and Martha Livingston, Ph.D.
Foreward by Rep. John Conyers Jr.
The New Press, August 2008
Paperback, 176 pp., $13.95

While the public is accustomed to seeing a fresh crop of books by presidential candidates during each election cycle — autobiographies, collections of platitudes or sometimes more visionary musings — it’s less common for them to come across popular and well-researched policy books on the burning issues of the day.

Even rarer are election-year policy books that are well-written, widely accessible and likely to have staying power long after the last vote is cast.

“10 Excellent Reasons for National Health Care,” however, is just such a book. Edited by Mary O’Brien, M.D., and Martha Livingston, Ph.D. — both health policy experts and leaders of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) — this new offering from The New Press delivers exactly what it promises: 10 persuasive, evidence-based arguments for a single-payer national health insurance program in the United States.

Sixteen contributors, including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), United Methodist Church leader James Winkler, California Nurses Association leader Rose Ann DeMoro and Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, make the case for single payer in a compact, pocket-sized paperback.

National health insurance is good for our health, they say. It’s cost effective and will save money. It will assure high-quality care for all, rich or poor. It’s the moral thing to do. It will let doctors and nurses focus on patients, not paperwork. It will diminish racial disparities. It will reduce medical debt. It will benefit both labor and business.

And, as Joanne Landy and Dr. Oliver Fein of PNHP argue, single payer is what nearly two-thirds of Americans want.

In each case, the argument is fleshed out with facts and statistics, sometimes accompanied by charts and even the occasional cartoon. Several contain dramatic patient stories. Dr. Claudia Fegan, for example, relates her frustration with trying to get an insurance company to approve an urgently needed detox treatment for a patient, ultimately finding herself pleading with an emergency room physician to administer a time-critical injection.

Drs. Olveen Carrasquillo and Jaime Torres vividly describe what they call “medical apartheid” in our present setup, a multi-tiered “system of segregated care and unequal access faced by poor and predominantly minority patients,” including undocumented immigrants.

All of these problems would be effectively resolved under an expanded and improved Medicare for all, the contributors argue. The main obstacle to achieving this goal, however, is the influence of the for-profit, private health insurance industry.

Despite the obstacles to reform, “10 Excellent Reasons” is pervaded by a spirit of confidence that national health insurance can be won, an optimism that most readers will find contagious. It’s a powerful tool for single-payer advocacy. It also includes a valuable list of additional resources at the end.

In his foreword, Rep. Conyers sums it up: “This insightful book will provide you with the information you need to be an informed participant in the public debate about how to achieve health care for all, [and] work toward the only sensible solution to our health care crisis: a single-payer national health insurance program.”

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Mary O’Brien, M.D., is a board-certified attending physician at Columbia University Health Services and a faculty member at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. She is on the board of directors of the New York Metro chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Martha Livingston, Ph.D., is associate professor of health and society at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. She is vice-chair of the board of directors of the New York Metro chapter of PNHP.

“10 Excellent Reasons for National Health Care” can be ordered from your local bookseller or from, among other places. In searching for the book on Amazon, use the numeric 10 as the first word in the title or search under the names of Mary O’Brien, Martha Livingston or John Conyers.

To inquire about ordering multiple copies, call Physicians for a National Health Program at (312) 782-6006.