Although people in Wisconsin can pretty much write off having universal health care anytime in the immediate future, perhaps not all hope for taxpayer-funded coverage must be lost.

Thursday, State Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, and Rep. Chuck Benedict, D-Beloit, unveiled their proposed "Wisconsin Health Security Act" legislation at the State Capitol. If passed, this bill would essentially establish a state-financed health care system guaranteeing medical coverage for every Wisconsinite. Although the fate of this altruistic legislation seems dismal, perhaps its proposal was more than just a symbolic act.

The United States has long been sinking into a health-care quagmire of exploding costs and massive inadequacy. Although their proposed measure is almost certainly doomed in Wisconsin's Republican Legislature, State Sen. Miller and Rep. Benedict must be credited for bringing attention to a glaring problem that is increasingly causing misery and financial hardship across the United States.

Although it may be difficult, try to remember the innocent days of the early '90s. The harmonic crooning of "Boys II Men" was just beginning to take off, Americans were infatuated with their beloved "Three Ninjas," and President Bill Clinton was promising a vast overhaul of the nation's health-care system to ensure coverage for every citizen. Before long, "Boys II Men" started to seem pretty creepy, the "Three Ninjas" hit puberty and the U.S. health care industry united in one of the biggest scare campaigns ever to hit the airwaves.

After spending ludicrous amounts of money, the major health insurers had frightened Americans away from being guaranteed health-care coverage, and vilified Hillary Clinton for having attempted to provide it.

Fast-forward 13 years. Health care in the United States is in a sorrier state than ever before. According to www.americanhealthcarereform.org, 45 million Americans live with no health care and the problem is growing exponentially, with that number expected to exceed 51 million by 2006.

To put the problem in perspective financially, a Harvard study showed that medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy declarations in the U.S., a majority of which are made by people who have health insurance. Even many people who are covered cannot afford the skyrocketing out-of-pocket expenses charged by health insurers.

Regardless of their country's general swing toward conservatism in recent years, it seems that Americans might soon be ready to hear ideas on health-care reform.

The United States is the only industrialized nation on the planet without a system of universal health-care coverage. It is an embarrassment that the economically disadvantaged in the world's richest nation are left helpless when faced with life-threatening illnesses. Perhaps an even bigger tragedy is the fact that millions of children are unprotected, without any health-care coverage whatsoever. The time to act on this issue is long past due.

Maybe the fears of U.S. industrial and commercial forces regarding government-provided health care were once understandable and even well founded. However, much has changed in recent years. In trying to remain competitive in a global market, American corporations have run into huge troubles with the expanding costs of providing health care for employees.

To understand the magnitude of this problem, one has only to look as far as the health-care compromise struck last week between General Motors and United Auto Workers. How can an American car company subsidizing worker health care have a chance to compete with a Japanese car company whose workers are insured by the government? Instituting a program of universal health-care coverage for all Americans would ensure a level playing field for U.S. economic interests abroad.

For the first time in years, the U.S. political climate seems to be shifting toward a tolerance of health-care reform. Americans have been said to vote with their wallets, and the next few years could see this trend extend to the issue of medical insurance.

The legislation proposed by State Sen. Miller and Rep. Benedict may not get far, but it may just be a sign of things to come.

Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science.