While the fractious debate over health care is a step in the right direction, three health care experts said in a Wednesday night panel discussion, the current health care bill is a far cry from universal health care.

Before an audience of about 60, Yale School of Medicine professor Howard Forman, AIDS activist Gregg Gonsalves and Connecticut Health Policy Project Executive Director Ellen Andrews GRD ’89 agreed that a health care bill — a version of which was passed by the Senate Committee on Finance on Tuesday — was necessary. But while Forman spoke out in support of the bill, Gonsalves and Andrews said the bill pandered to Republicans, sacrificing important goals for health care reform in the process.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”9714″ ]

“I agree that you don’t want the perfect to be the end of the good,” Andrews said of the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. “But I also believe that there’s a line in the sand where it’s not even good anymore.”

The current health care bill could cut Americans’ medical costs by about 30 percent, Andrews said. But the United States will still spend far more on health care than other countries, such as Singapore and Taiwan, that offer universal health care, she added. These two countries spend between 3 and 6 percent of their gross domestic product on health care, Andrews said. By contrast, the U.S. spends about 16 percent of its budget on health care while still leaving millions of Americans uninsured.

Gonsalves, a student in the Eli Whitney Program — a non-traditional degree program offered by the University — said the bill would not do enough to expand coverage. His family, he said, pays $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for his AIDS treatment. But compared to the medical costs that tens of millions of uninsured Americans face, Gonsalves added, his family is lucky.

Despite their differences on the current bill, the panelists said such a debate would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. When Andrews began pushing for health care reform, she said, universal health care in the U.S. was the “butt of jokes.” Forman said that in the past he had doubted that a health care reform bill would even make it through the necessary Senate committees.

Two interviewed attendees said they went to the panel discussion because health care is the primary political issue at the moment.

“It’s sort of the roadblock before anything else gets done,” Drew Macklis ’13 said.

The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Yale College Democrats, Yale College Council and the Public Health Coalition. The Yale College Democrats will host a phone-banking event for health care reform on Oct. 17 at Blue State Coffee.

Correction: October 19, 2009

A previous version of this article misidentified the sponsor of the health care reform panel. It was sponsored by the Public Health Coalition, not the Yale Health Initiative.