THE NUMBER OF uninsured families without health insurance is estimated by some sources to be about 47 million, with more than a third of those being households with family incomes of $40,900 or more.

In short, the middle class shares this problem with the poor. What is amazing is that Gov. Rendell, at a recent local forum in Lancaster sponsored by Progressives 4 Pennsylvania, conceded that a single-payer model of health care for Pennsylvanians might be better.

But Pennsylvania's powerful health-insurance lobbies and lack of support on the national level are hurdles, he said, according to the April 5 Lancaster New Era.

Rendell talked about his health-care proposal, which would rely on the existing insurance system and would exclude many people.

Chuck Pennacchio, who ran on the Democratic ticket for senator, is now working for single-payer health care. He explained why he thought that approach is superior. "Unless it's single-payer, it's not universal," Pennacchio said before Rendell arrived.

"It's only universal if everyone is covered . . . Our bill gets at the source of the problem. We already have single-payer health care. It's called Medicare, and it works."

Under a single-payer plan, one entity - a government-run office - would collect all health- care fees, and pay all health-care costs. The money would come from taxation.

Yet the plan proposed by Senate Bill 300, the state proposal that Pennacchio supports, would not be "socialized medicine."

Although it would be publicly financed, like Medicare, it would be privately delivered. This means doctors wouldn't work for the state and people would go to doctors of their own choosing. Single-payer is the kind of health-care plan that 86 other advanced countries have.

That these programs are less expensive is easy to establish: The United States spent an average of $6,102 a person on it in 2004, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, while Canada spent $3,165, France $3,159, Australia $3,120 and Britain just $2,508.

Statistics also show that this approach provides better care. This emerges most clearly from what is widely considered the best measure of the quality of a health system, infant mortality.

ON THIS criterion, the United States is 36th from the top, with 6.63 infant deaths per 1,000 births, below all of the countries in western Europe. (Sweden is the best in that region, with 2.77 deaths per thousand, Italy the worst with 6.07.) And the United States is below Singapore (2.28, the best in the world), Japan, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Canada, Cuba . . .

Other modes of measurement would also show that our health offers shockingly poor care - except to the rich. These modes include, among others, child survival to 5 years of age, social disparities in care, experiences with the health-care system, the quality of the primary-care base and preventive medicine.

In Lancaster, Rendell said, "Would I sign single-payer legislation if it came to me? Yes."

But he, like so many, he think it is impossible to pass because the health-insurance industry is so powerful and wishes to protect its profits.

But those who support SB 300 should call or write Gov. Rendell - and their legislators - and say so! Isn't it possible that if we all speak out, the will of the people in Pennsylvania could turn out to be more important than the power of organized money? *

Linda Hunt Beckman is a professor of English at Arcadia University. She is a member of the activist organization Neighborhood Networks (