A national health program for the United States. A physicians' proposal

N Engl J Med. 1989 Jan 12;320(2):102-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198901123200206.


Our health care system is failing. Tens of millions of people are uninsured, costs are skyrocketing, and the bureaucracy is expanding. Patchwork reforms succeed only in exchanging old problems for new ones. It is time for basic change in American medicine. We propose a national health program that would (1) fully cover everyone under a single, comprehensive public insurance program; (2) pay hospitals and nursing homes a total (global) annual amount to cover all operating expenses; (3) fund capital costs through separate appropriations; (4) pay for physicians' services and ambulatory services in any of three ways: through fee-for-service payments with a simplified fee schedule and mandatory acceptance of the national health program payment as the total payment for a service or procedure (assignment), through global budgets for hospitals and clinics employing salaried physicians, or on a per capita basis (capitation); (5) be funded, at least initially, from the same sources as at present, but with all payments disbursed from a single pool; and (6) contain costs through savings on billing and bureaucracy, improved health planning, and the ability of the national health program, as the single payer for services, to establish overall spending limits. Through this proposal, we hope to provide a pragmatic framework for public debate of fundamental health-policy reform.

MeSH terms

  • Budgets
  • Capitation Fee
  • Economics, Hospital
  • Fees, Medical
  • Financing, Government
  • Health Planning
  • Insurance Benefits
  • Insurance, Health, Reimbursement
  • National Health Insurance, United States / economics*
  • Politics
  • Taxes
  • United States