& & & lt;i & by Pia K. Hansen & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

The group Health Care 2000 collected nearly 100,000 signatures before the last election, trying to get a statewide health care initiative on the ballot (I-245) -- but didn't succeed.

"We had a lot of problems with staffing the campaign, and you really need to get that straightened out when you are trying to collect 220,000 signatures," says Dr. Stuart J. Bramhall, president of the board. "It was a total volunteer effort, we only had one girl who was paid staff."

The initiative would create a central state health agency that would collect mandatory premiums from all state residents, employer assessments and use some already existing tax funds as well. A similar plan offered as a statewide initiative in Massachusetts failed to pass just last year.

Earlier this week, Health Care 2000 got one step closer to some legislative action when Sen. Pat Thibaudeau agreed to sponsor a bill introducing I-245 before the legislature. The bill has yet to be assigned a number, but backers anticipate a public hearing before the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee to be scheduled soon.

"People should be aware that universal health care is very doable. This initiative basically creates a health security trust that would pay for services. By centralizing financing, we'd save more than $2 billion statewide," says Bramhall, a psychiatrist who runs her own clinic.

Bramhall adds that she spends an enormous amount of time just doing billing because there are so many different insurance companies that cover her patients.

"As for paying the premium, you would be on an honor system with them just as you are today with the IRS," says Bramhall. "You are expected to pay, and if you don't and you are found out, then you are in trouble." All state residents who make more than 150 percent of the federal poverty level would pay a premium.

"The benefit for the doctors would be that they didn't have to call in and get anything pre-authorized, and they wouldn't have to deal with medications they can't prescribe because they are not on 'the list'," she explains. "This would truly return the decision making to the doctors, since the central office wouldn't be notified until after the service was provided."

Bramhall is convinced that not only could this system work -- the technology needed is already available -- but that it would also save everybody money since the process for filing claims would be totally streamlined.

"What we need to do now is boost our membership and streamline the organization," says Bramhall, "then we'll be ready to pull it off."

& & & lt;i & For more information on Health Care 2000, visit www.healthcare2k.org or call 1-877-903-9723. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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