The Billings Outpost

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Why won’t Baucus consider single-payer plan?


I’ve never met Max Baucus, but I know plenty of people who have, and their opinions range from loathing to admiration. People who like him say he’s got a good heart and genuinely tries to help his constituents and his country.


If he cares about an issue, say preserving the Rocky Mountain Front or funding the SCHIP program, he digs in his heels and refuses to budge.


That’s why it’s so difficult to understand why he’s digging in his heels in opposing something many Americans want: single-payer health-care reform. He seems to think his congressional colleagues won’t vote for it no matter how many people they hear from supporting it, so that’s that.


In Washington, D.C., this is the common, pragmatic view, especially when lobbyists are telling elected officials to slow down, take their time, and not to stick their necks out - messages members of Congress tend to listen to, given their general lack of backbone and avid interest in staying in office.


The latest tool in the anti-single-payer toolbox is the price tag: ranging from tens of billions up to $1 trillion over 10 years, depending on who’s doing the estimating. Supporters say any cost estimate is inherently misleading because of all the money we’re wasting with our current inefficient system.


For example, they say that private insurance companies skim off an estimated $400 billion per year in administrative costs, and lobbying groups are said to be shelling out an estimated $1.5 million per day to defeat reform.


To hear reform opponents talk, you’d think they guarded every penny coming out of Washington. Yet they didn’t bat an eye last fall when approving $700 billion in virtually undocumented corporate bailout money. And you never hear them talk about how much our current healthcare system is costing us (an estimated $6,401 per person in 2005, or 15.3 percent of GDP that year).


When people oppose a single-payer system, I wonder if they have health coverage and whether it’s Medicare, VA, or some other government-funded plan; in other words, a single-payer system. A lot of times, they do. So basically, it’s OK for us to pay for them to have single-payer coverage, but they’ll be doggoned if they’ll chip in so everybody else can have it, too. In my world, they call that hypocrisy.


President Obama noted as much during his speech last week. He acknowledged that he has the best health care in the world and that a doctor literally follows him around. I suspect that Mr. Obama sees this hypocrisy inherent in the healthcare reform debate and doesn’t care for it.


(Interestingly, even Mr. Obama’s personal physician before he became president, Chicago internist David Scheiner, has publicly called for a single-payer health care system.)


Sen. Baucus has to be reeling from the letters, e-mails, petitions, and other negative feedback he’s been getting because of his opposition to single-payer health care. No member of Congress, regardless of seniority or how many “powerful” committees he chairs, likes that. It’s bad for morale and bad for getting re-elected.


Then there are the tons of money he’s gotten from the insurance industry and others who don’t want healthcare reform, at least not the kind that cuts out their profits. Some dot-connecting was made visible in Helena and other cities last Friday when single-payer advocates marched from Blue Cross Blue Shield to the senator’s office carrying big replicas of donation checks.


National Public Radio ran an embarrassing piece last week called “Who has access to Max Baucus?” (available at


It discussed how Montana’s senior senator received nearly half of his 2008 re-election haul of $11.6 million from sources outside the state and those involved in health insurance and other industries that the Finance Committee oversees. Only 13 percent came from Montanans. He reportedly quit accepting money from health-industry political action committees June 1, but then took, and later returned, $5,000 from a Schering Plough fund June 15.


NPR also mentioned his ski and snowmobile weekends with donors, golf and fly-fishing trips ($2,500 per person), and his successful Glacier PAC. There was even a “Baucus influence map” provided, showing that five former staffers are now lobbying for pharmaceutical firms and other corporations, which graphically illustrates the value of access on influence (and income) in Washington.


Also mentioned was “Camp Baucus,” his annual soiree for supporters taking place this weekend at Big Sky, where tickets start at $2,500 per person.


Some single-payer supporters from Helena were planning to drive down there later this week and hold signs along the road heading up to Big Sky showing their position on healthcare reform.


Congress will be taking August off without voting on health-care reform, although iconoclastic U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, managed to get bipartisan committee support a couple weeks ago for his amendment permitting states to adopt their own form of single-payer health care. That move could turn out to be a significant one and bears watching.


Limiting sleds

How many snowmobiles to allow in Yellowstone National Park has been a hot issue for years. Riders and dealers (and people in towns around the park) typically want the limit adjusted upward, while environmentalists and backcountry recreationists usually want it lowered.


Exhaust from the machines got so bad back in the 1990s that the park experimented with having admission staff wear gas masks. Things are better now that four-stroke engines are widely used, but the point was made.


Last winter, 720 snowmobiles per day were technically allowed into the park (although 426 was the highest number that actually showed up on a single day), a quasi-compromise between an outright ban contemplated during the Clinton presidency and the 900 snowmobiles per day that rumor had it the Judy Martz administration once advocated.


Now the pendulum has swung again and the Department of the Interior is recommending a maximum of 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches be allowed into the park on any given day for the next two winter seasons. According to an Associated Press article published last Friday, the constantly changing policies have discouraged snowmobiling in the park.


Interior reportedly will be taking public comment on the proposal and will do an environmental analysis to make sure that the best science dictates the final decision.


Speaking of ...

… The Associated Press, two people in the Helena office recently took early retirement buyouts and departed last Friday. They are Len Iwanski, broadcast editor and writer, and Susan Gallagher, reporter.

That leaves four total AP staffers in Montana, three here in Helena and one in Billings.

The AP, a cooperative owned by more than 1,500 member newspapers, is having tough times. Clients need to cut costs, and the AP’s services are expensive.

The AP announced this past fall that it would lay off 10 percent of its staff, or 400 people, and consolidate into several regional hubs.

Speculation is there could be more AP layoffs soon.


Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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