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April 28, 2008

Congressman Seeks Input on Health Care Bill

In a frank and informal discussion on April 11, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. invited the scientific community at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to share its knowledge of health care systems around the world. The goal of the discussion, which was initiated by Conyers, was to get input from the School’s experts and to begin an ongoing collaboration that would help bring to fruition universal health care in the U.S.

Congressman Conyers (U.S. Rep., D–Mich.), who also serves as Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, champions a bill known as HR 676, which advocates a single-payer universal health care plan. The bill would provide coverage and care to every citizen, including the 47 million Americans currently excluded from any coverage.

The bill has already attracted 90 cosponsors, more than any universal health care proposal in Congress. The Chairman and his team hope to use evidence-based input from the Bloomberg School to strengthen the case for the 27-page bill as they continue to build support in Congress and the general public.

 “We need Johns Hopkins so badly, because we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. It’s critical that we quickly pull together all the information and knowledge that we have so that we’re not losing time,” said Conyers. Cynthia Martin, Conyers’s chief of staff, added that, “We want to do this on a regular basis.”

The Bloomberg School’s dean, Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, offered the support of the School as a scientific resource for the policymakers, and he promoted the idea that health care is a right, not a privilege. He told Conyers, “You’re singing to the choir [on universal health care]. We can assemble a task force. We think this is the right thing to do, and we couldn’t be more pleased. In public health, we like big problems—we’d be happy to be the R & D group behind the scenes.”

HR 676 outlines a plan for a single-payer system, in which the single payer is the U.S. government. His team estimates a total annual savings of $387 billion, compared to private health insurance and out-of-pocket spending. The program would be funded with revenue created by a combination of a 3.3 percent payroll tax increase and savings generated by reducing “corporate welfare,” by a stock transfer tax and by reversing the tax cuts of 2001 and 2002. The plan, said Conyers, will preclude profit-taking and advertising, and it well end health disparities in the U.S.

At an earlier talk at the School in March, Conyers predicted great resistance to his bill from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. “The profit-making corporate enterprises will not go quietly into the night,” he said. “They’ll fight it tooth and nail.”

Of the Americans who slip between the cracks of the health care system, to devastating effect, Conyers said: “You keep hearing these horror stories, and you say, Good night. You say, I don’t want to hear any more of these horror stories, but they’re out there, and you have to listen.”  — Christine Grillo

Public Affairs media contact: Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or