Single-payer mentions draw cheers at Baucus-sponsored health care talk

By Michael Moore of the Missoulian

Steve McArthur is a management consultant.

Read self-employed.

That means he has to buy his own insurance, a Blue Cross Blue Shield policy that costs him $584 a month and carries a $10,000 deductible.

On Tuesday morning, he listened for a long time as Missoulians discussed health care reform at a listening session at St. Patrick Hospital sponsored by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

The hearing ranged broadly over the possibilities for reform, but what clearly resonated for McArthur was something Baucus’ chief of staff, Jon Selib, said a couple of times.

Discussing why a single-payer system of health insurance wasn’t viable, Selib made reference to the more than 150 million Americans who are covered by some sort of employer-provided health care.

“A lot of people like that,” Selib said.

When the time came for questions, 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.

Less than 10 people raised their hands.

“The number is bogus,” McArthur said. “It’s not working for 95 percent of us.”

McArthur drew resounding applause.

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.

Tuesday’s session was one of a handful of events Baucus is sponsoring around the state this week. He chairs the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee, and is the point man on health care reform.

He did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, but Selib did, and he heard what the senator himself has heard since he announced that single-payer wasn’t really on the table.

As Selib worked to massage that point, one man barked out, “Oh bull—-.” Tom Roberts, president of the Western Montana Clinic and moderator at the session, asked the crowd to be civil, but the man had made his point.

The session included a panel of speakers, then a round of questions.

The panel made a variety of references to how health care would be paid for, but also made it clear that insurance isn’t the only problem with the American health care system.

Much was made about how much Americans spend on health care – more than $7,000 a year – and how little we get for it. Our health care system ranks 37th worldwide.

What we need, the director of the Missoula City-County Health Department said, is more focus on preventative health care over acute care.

“It’s not just about health care,” said Ellen Leahy. “I want health.”

Jeff Fee, president and chief executive officer of St. Patrick Hospital, said the current economic model of successful hospitals is precisely inverse to what we want in our communities.

A hospital does best, Fee said, when its beds are full.

“We need to turn that upside down,” said Fee, who noted that a healthy community wouldn’t fill its hospitals’ beds.

That sentiment, too, drew loud applause.

The clear message from Tuesday’s meeting is that Missoulians have high standards for health care reform. They want to be heard as clearly as are executives from the insurance companies and HMOs.

“I’ve been traveling all over to the discussions, and we’ve just got to make it clear that we need coverage for everyone,” said Bob Putsch, an emeritus professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “They need to listen to us.”


  1. Pat on May 28, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Here’s a shocker. Senator Ron Wyden is leading the ban on the public option!
    Spread the message and have EVERYONE tell him what they think of him at

    Read it and weep: