While the United States spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care—$7,129 per capita—47 million Americans have no health care insurance. In the country's mostly employer-based benefit system, companies either don't offer health insurance or pass escalating premium costs on to employees. The lack of national progress toward dealing with health insurance issues has led several states, such as Massachusetts and California, to launch initiatives for their own residents.

In New York state, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried introduced a bill to create a commission which would explore various state-based options for universal coverage. Will state leaders go back to the drawing board this year, and what direction will they take regarding health care for their constituents?

Issues and options related to the present system of health insurance will be explored during a wide-ranging forum at the University of Rochester on Saturday, March 3. A panel of experts representing medical, economic, and government perspectives will give talks during the program, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Gowen Room in Wilson Commons on the University's River Campus. Admission to the event is free and open to the public.

"Health insurance issues have an enormous impact on ordinary people and employers and must be addressed," said Theodore Brown, professor of history and of community and preventive medicine. Brown conducts research in the history of medicine and health policy and is one of the organizers of the forum. "There are economic and moral arguments for the availability of health care to all, and health insurance and accessibility problems should be discussed from all possible vantage points."

Participating in the panel discussion are:

The Massachusetts health plan requires that every citizen have health insurance. Uninsured people earning less than the federal poverty level threshold would be assisted in purchasing subsidized policies. Companies with 11 or more employees would be required to help pay for health insurance, up to $295 a year per worker. The cost estimates for the program's monthly premiums are now projected to be almost twice as expensive as originally predicted.

In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's recently announced plan includes a requirement that employers with 10 or more workers buy insurance for their workers or pay a fee of four per cent of their payroll into a program to cover the uninsured.

The local health insurance symposium is sponsored by the American Medical Students Association and the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at the University's Medical Center; the Charles Drew Pre-Health Society and the Health and Society Program in the University's College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering; and by the community-based Interfaith Health Care Coalition. For more information, contact (516) 242-2863 or (585) 275-2051.