NU Online News Service, Jan. 7, 2:37 p.m. – John Garamendi, California’s new insurance commissioner, is calling for his state to create a “single health insurance system” that will cover all residents 24 hours a day.

“Why is it that in modern America we are required to have four, five or six health care policies?” Garamendi demanded Monday at his inauguration in Sacramento, Calif.

U.S. consumers now use separate policies and programs to pay for treating illnesses, on-the-job injuries, injuries caused by other people off the job, and injuries caused by automobile accidents that are the consumers’ own fault, Garamendi said, according to a written version of his remarks.

Military veterans have yet another health finance system, and one-fifth of U.S. residents have no health coverage of their own, Garamendi added.

“This crazy quilt system of old, worn patches of coverage requires a legion of clerks backed up by a plethora of lawyers, each trying to place the cost on some other insurance company,” Garamendi said. “The current system is an expensive and inefficient hodgepodge of insurance coverage.”

The United States devotes 15% of its gross domestic product to pay for health care, while West European countries pay less than 10% of GDP and get universal coverage, Garamendi said.

“Some say we cannot afford health insurance for all,” Garamendi said. “I say that we can’t afford not to have it.”

Garamendi said he also will work to shore up the California workers’ compensation and homeowners insurance markets, and to defend consumers’ privacy.

Garamendi, a Democrat who first served as insurance commissioner from 1991 to 1995, is returning to office after winning 46% of the vote in the Nov. 5, 2002, elections.

A copy of his speech is available on the Web at http://www.insurance.ca.gov/docs/speech.htm