The Billings Outpost

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Doctor pushing for single-payer health system

Dr. Rick Staggenborg doesn’t call himself mad as hell, but he does admit to being moderately annoyed. The VA psychiatrist from Oregon was in Helena this past week with the cross-country tour of “Mad as Hell” doctors talking up single-payer health care on their way to a Sept. 30 protest in Washington, D.C.

The doctors arrived in Helena on Sept. 10 in their “Care-A-Van” for a Thursday noon rally at the Capitol and then spoke at a single-payer conference at Carroll College last Saturday.

With a background in psychology, Dr. Staggenborg says he’s particularly interested in what motivates public attitudes toward political issues, especially  health-care reform.

“I think people in general want change, but conservatives want it at a gradual rate and liberals see a lot more wrong than we can fix at a gradual rate, so we need to engage conservatives in the debate because things have gotten so bad in the last 30 years that we need to make dramatic changes to reverse course,” he says.

Walking the talk, after Dr. Staggenborg stopped at my office on Friday, he was on his way to visit the Montana Republican Party headquarters to see if he could spark a discussion there on his favorite issue.

“I want them to understand that single-payer is fiscally conservative,” he says. “It costs twice as much, roughly, on average per capita to provide really substandard medical insurance than it does in countries that have universal healthcare that’s much more comprehensive and they have better health outcomes. We’re 37th in the world, according to the World Health Organization, to which we are a signatory. Also, we’ve signed on to the Human Rights Declaration of the United Nations, which states that health care is a human right.”

Along with his political activity, Dr. Staggenborg is currently writing an online book and invites anybody interested to email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and he’ll notify them when a new chapter is posted. He’s also planning to run as a Green Party candidate next year against U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whom he says opposes a single-payer approach to health care reform.

Other side

Not to be outdone, some health-care professionals who don’t want to see a single-payer system in this country were in Helena last Friday to contribute their views at the annual Montana Medical Association convention.

Missoula neurosurgeon Carter Beck, representing the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights, said the group opposes a “government takeover” of health care because, among other things, it would interfere with a doctor’s independent judgment regarding treatment. His organization also opposes a so-called “public option” because members believe government would be intruding too much in the marketplace.

According to groups tracking such things, the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights is really an “astroturf” outfit (as opposed to a genuine “grassroots” one) created by the DCI Group, a conservative public-relations and lobbying company in Washington, D.C.

A huge crowd of folks opposed to the federal government being involved in health care (or anything else) descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., this past Saturday to make their frustrations known. The broad cross-section of Americans, estimated in the tens of thousands, included so-called “Tea Party” protesters, conservatives, libertarians, independents and everything in between.

Heck cling

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., is certainly getting more than his 15 minutes of fame. The nervy guy who shouted “You lie” at President Obama during his Sept. 9 speech on health-care reform to a joint session of Congress has been praised, vilified and had wads of dough thrown at both his re-election campaign and the campaign of his Democratic opponent.

News reports also focused on the death glare fixed on Rep. Wilson by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who held a vote on a “resolution of disapproval” for his behavior if he doesn’t formally apologize on the floor of the House. Rep. Wilson, who called the White House after his outburst to apologize to the president (an apology Mr. Obama accepted), has said he won’t apologize again.

None of this to-do would happen in the British Parliament, given the relative free-for-all that accompanies the prime minister’s weekly half-hour Q&A session in the House of Commons. The tradition of jeering and heckling the British leader is jarring to us Americans who are used to a much more sedate atmosphere in the U.S. Congress.

(“Heck cling”, incidentally, refers to the caption stuck on the screen by CNN’s apparently inadequate voice-recognition software during a Sept. 10 news report on Rep. Wilson’s brief oratorical adventure.)

Quote of the week

“I’m a big believer that we all make mistakes, that we apologize quickly and without equivocation, and I’m appreciative of that. We have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name-calling, without the assumption of the worst in other people’s motives.”

– President Obama, in response to the apology from Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C, who shouted  “You lie” during the president’s Sept. 9 speech to Congress.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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