HELENA - Sen. Max Baucus is set to meet with five single-payer health care advocates in Washington, D.C., this week.
Baucus, as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has made health care reform his top priority this session. However, Baucus has consistently said single-payer - a system in which the federal government acts as the nation's sole health insurance provider - is off the table.
"For more than a year, Senator Baucus has met with thousands of people, representing hundreds of views on how to reform our health care system," Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf stated in an e-mail. "This meeting is no different. Max hopes to talk, and listen, to these folks totry and find the best way to make sure every Montanan has access to quality, affordable health care."
Last week, members of Baucus' staff held 20 listening sessions across the state on health care reform. At several of those meetings, Montanans expressed anger over Baucus' steadfast refusal to consider a single-payer option.
Last month Baucus had 13 protesters removed from Senate Finance Committee hearings after the protesters demanded that single-payer advocates be given a seat at the table during health care reform hearings.
According to the Web site SinglePayerAction.org, Baucus will meet with Dr. David Himmelstein, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP); Dr. Marcia Angell, senior lecturer, Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine; Dr. Oliver Fein, associate dean, Cornell Weill Medical School and president of PNHP; Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association; and Geri Jenkins, president of California Nurses Association.
Angell said the group plans to urge Baucus to give serious consideration to Congress' two primary single-payer bills, S. 703, by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and H.R. 676, by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
"We will make a case that there should be full hearings on Sanders' bill, and we'll make the case that the (Congressional Budget Office) should cost-out the Sanders and Conyers bills," Angell said in an interview Monday. "We'll make the case that single-payer advocates should have a chance to meet with the president. We will argue for holding public hearings on health reform that include single payer witnesses."
Matsdorf said the June 3 meeting was scheduled prior to last week's well-attended health care listening sessions, but Angell said she believes the pressure Montanans put on Baucus in recent weeks helped open the door for Wednesday's meeting.
"I think Sen. Baucus may be surprised at the amount of push-back he has gotten for just ruling (single-payer) off the table," Angell said. "It may indicate that he's starting to feel pressure, and that's all for the good."