Baucus soothes single-payer backers
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told leading advocates of a government-financed health care system that he made a mistake by not giving their proposals more consideration in the reform debate, according to participants in a meeting Wednesday.
He also vowed to use the “power of his office” to make sure charges are dropped against about a dozen people who protested after advocates of a government-backed plan were excluded from recent Finance Committee hearings, the participants said.
“That was concrete movement. Unfortunately, there was not very much in the way of other concrete movement,” said Dr. David Himmelstein, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program and associate professor medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“While he did say it was probably a mistake not to have given a full hearing to single payer in the past, he announced no intention of opening up the hearings on single payer in the future and we will therefore need to continue to press him,” Himmelstein said.
Baucus has faced sustained pressure from advocates of so-called single-payer health care, a system in which government is the sole provider of health insurance. And concession that it was a mistake not to include single payers is notable shift for the lead Senate negotiator on health care.
Baucus spokeswoman Erin Shields did not address the participants’ take on the meeting in a statement.
“Senator Baucus met privately with single-payer advocates today and discussed their shared goals of providing quality, affordable health care to every American,” the statement read. “Senator Baucus asked them to work together with him to pursue that goal this year.”
Baucus has often said every proposal is on the table — except single payer health care because there is no way Congress would go for it. President Barack Obama, who said in 2003 that a single payer system is “what I would like to see,” has also said the option isn’t politically feasible.
Those involved in the health care negotiations say single payers have been elevated precisely because Baucus excluded them. Baucus has been able keep almost every interest group involved in the process from speaking out against the ideas under consideration. But because they are not involved, single payers have been one of the only vocal constituencies hammering away at Baucus.
The virtual shut-out has emboldened the movement.
After being left off the invite list for the White House health care forum in March, single payer advocates alerted the media and won a seat at the table. They disrupted each of the Finance Committee’s three roundtables on health care in April and May.
And last week in Montana, single-payer advocates flooded town halls arranged by his Senate office, earning significant local media attention. Baucus did not attend the meetings, and sent staff and a videotaped message instead.
“Senator Baucus was working and had commitments that prevented him from attending the town halls,” Baucus spokesman Tyler Matsdorf said.
Wednesday’s meeting was arranged by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who supports single-payer health care, and included representatives from the California Nurses Association and Physicians for a National Health Program.