Dr. David Himmelstein M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, lectured on the merits of a single-payer system of universal health care at Pickard Theater on Tuesday.

Himmelstein, who is also the chief of the division of social and community medicine, is the co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, an advocacy group working towards comprehensive single-payer national health care through presentations to doctor's groups and other concerned groups.

His talk focused on the increasing cost of health care in America, the dangers of the having a for-profit heath care system, and the ineffectiveness of the "mandate-system" of universal health care currently being considered by Congress.

"It's a race to the bottom," he said about the philosophy of the health industry with regards to how much service they are willing to cut to increase profits. Himmelstein proceeded to present an assortment of slides giving data on the success rates of people undergoing different procedures in public and private hospitals. For all the procedures he mentioned, there was a lower success rate for patients in private hospitals than in public ones.

After his statistics, Himmelstein presented several negative stories of different health companies endangering patients' health for their own monetary benefit.

One anecdote Himmelstein gave was the directive of a major consulting firm to insurance companies on how long to pay for hospitalization of patients with different illnesses.

That directive included recommendations such as paying for a one-day hospital stay for a child in a diabetic coma and three days of hospitalization for a meningitis patient. These examples were followed by a statement from the consulting firm: "We do not base our guidelines on any randomized clinical trails or other controlled studies, nor do we study [patients'] outcomes before sharing our recommendations with [insurance companies]."

"It's a 'we don't need no stinking data' approach," Himmelstein said, paraphrasing Mel Brooks.

On the increasing cost of health care, Himmelstein cited the statistic that health care inflation is currently six percent above the overall inflation rate. The reason for the inflation, he said, centered around the proliferation of for-profit health insurance companies who, as he showed in one slide, have seen exponential rises in their profits over the last 30 years.

"We're already paying for universal health care," Himmelstein said. To illustrate this point, Himmelstein showed a graph of per person health expenditures in the United States and several countries with single-payer systems of universal health care, which showed that the U.S. pays significantly more per person than the others.

Groans broke out from the audience as he went through a series of slides illustrating the failure of the several state programs mandating the purchase of health insurance.

Referring to the system instituted in Massachusetts, Himmelstein said "our current reform has driven the number of uninsured down to about five percent."

Referring to Oregon's mandate system, "there was a brief downward trend [in the number of uninsured] followed by an increase as the costs rose and the state pulled coverage."

These systems, he said, did not do enough. Himmelstein ended his lecture with a final call for America to "do the right thing" and institute a single-payer system of universal health care.