HELENA - Undeterred by Sen. Max Baucus' steadfast refusal to inject single-payer into the congressional debate on health care reform, more than 100 proponents of a "Medicare-for-all" form of nationalized health insurance rallied for their cause on Friday.
Protesters in Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, Bozeman and Butte gathered at Baucus' local field offices and demanded that Montana's senior senator, and chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, put single-payer back on the table.
Eric Feaver, president of the state's largest labor union, MEA-MFT, addressed the crowd at the amphitheater at the Great Northern Town Center and said he doesn't want to "trash" Baucus, but that Baucus is on the wrong path by ignoring single-payer.
"I think he has a very difficult job and he has 100 senators to work with that are not of one mind," Feaver said. "But I am here to remind Sen. Baucus that MEA-MFT does have 18,000 members who live and work everywhere in this state and they all vote. And they have supported single-payer for many years."
Though Baucus has been frigid to the idea of single-payer, he has said he'd consider supporting a public option in which the federal government would create an insurance plan that would compete with private insurance plans. However, Baucus also has floated the idea of taxing employer-provided health care benefits, a proposal MEA-MFT adamantly opposes, Feaver said.
"The working men and women of this state support health care reform, and they want the most comprehensive health care reform possible," Feaver said.
Kim Abbott, lead organizer for the Montana Human Rights Network's Right to Healthcare program, said affordable health care is not a privilege, but a human right.
"There is nothing more infuriating, or frustrating or sickening than knowing the answer but not having the political will to do the right thing," Abbott said. "We all know the answer. What's the answer?"
"Single payer!" the crowd responded.
Dr. Carol Paris, a Maryland psychiatrist who was twice arrested last month for protesting single-payer's exclusion from two Senate Finance Committee hearings, also appeared at Friday's rally.Paris, who was introduced as a "hero" of the single-payer movement for her acts of civil disobedience, said single-payer advocates need to "keep the heat on Sen. Baucus."
"The next 60 days truly are critical," Paris said. "We need to keep the momentum going here and in Washington."
Paris said single-payer advocates have three demands of Baucus.
- That he and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., hold Senate hearings on the merits of single-payer health care.
- That Baucus order the Congressional Budget Office to study the costs of implementing the Senate and House versions of single payer bills that have already been introduced.
- That Baucus arrange a meeting between President Barack Obama and single-payer experts.
After the rally protesters walked to Baucus' office around the corner. A Baucus staffer handed protesters a sheet of paper with Baucus' position on single payer.
"For more than a year Sen. Baucus has been laying the ground work to enact comprehensive, meaningful health care reform," the letter said in part.
It went on to say that Baucus and single-payer advocates "share the same goal."
"Both Senator Baucus and single payer advocates believe that every Montanan should have quality, affordable health care," the letter stated.
The two sides remain far from agreement on how to achieve that goal.