Sen. Max Baucus got some not-so friendly advice from his Montana constituents last week as he works to reform the health care system: You’re doing it all wrong.
Baucus, the chair of the Finance Committee and the leader of reform efforts in the Senate, scheduled 20 town hall meetings with constituents across the state to talk about the future of health care. The Senate was out of session, but Baucus, a Democrat, didn’t personally attend. Instead, he sent staff and a video-recorded message.
“I really want to hear from all of you,” Baucus said on the video, according to local media. “You’re my employers. You’re my bosses. You’re the people I work for. I’m just the hired hand. I want to hear what you want to see in any legislation we pass in Washington, D.C.”
He got what he asked for.
Five separate accounts of the meetings, published in four different local papers, show Montana voters were downright hostile to Baucus’ reform proposal. Baucus has been a staunch opponent of single-payer health care, a system in which the government would provide universal coverage.
Baucus has kept single-payer advocates out of negotiations and has yet to endorse a compromise proposal by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would give Americans the option of buying into a publicly run plan that would compete with private insurers.
That stance put his staffers up against a wall, facing angry constituents fed up by what they viewed as a lack of courage in Washington.
“Majority wants single-payer health care,” headlined an account in the Helena Independent Record.
At several of the events, Montanans’ ire was directed at Baucus chief of staff Jon Selib, who defended the employer-based coverage system that he estimated covers 150 million Americans.
“A lot of people like that,” Selib said.
When the time came for questions, [self-employed consultant Steve] McArthur stood up and asked a simple question. Looking across a standing-room-only crowd of about 275, he asked how many were happy with their employer-based health insurance.
Fewer than 10 people raised their hands.
“The [argument] is bogus,” McArthur said. “It’s not working for 95 percent of us.”
In fact, any mention of single-payer health care insurance brought raucous cheers and clapping. Any other solution to health care reform – including Baucus’ “balanced” plan that would create a mix of public and private plans – was received more coolly.