Baucus backs single-payer health system

By Gail Schontzler
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, September 8, 2017

It’s time for America to consider seriously a single-payer, government-run health system, says Max Baucus, Montana’s longest serving U.S. senator, former ambassador to China and one of the chief architects of Obamacare.

“My personal view is we’ve got to start looking at single-payer,” Baucus said Thursday night at Montana State University. “I think we should have hearings…. We’re getting there. It’s going to happen.”

It was a startling turnaround for Baucus, who eight years ago was chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and a key Democratic leader in the political battles that ultimately passed the Affordable Care Act.

Back then, Baucus said, he felt adamantly that Congress wouldn’t pass a government-run system like Canada’s. So it was the one alternative he refused to put “on the table” for consideration.

But you can see the difference, Baucus said, when you visit hospitals on either side of the border. In Montana, half a rural hospital will be dedicated to processing medical insurance claims. In Canada, he said, just one small room is needed to verify that patients are residents.

And Americans pay much higher drug prices, he said, because the government can’t negotiate better prices with the drug industry, so U.S. patients end up subsidizing drug prices for the rest of the world.

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C-SPAN: The Baucus 8:
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When Max Baucus was leading the legislative process that resulted in the Affordable Care Act, he refused to allow any formal consideration of single payer. In response, a group of notable single payer advocates – the Baucus 8 – protested at the Senate Finance Committee hearing that theoretically represented all views – except single payer, which was specifically excluded. The Baucus 8 got their message out, and Max Baucus got his capitol police to escort them out, one at a time.

The Baucus 8 did not give up. They have continued in their advocacy work for single payer reform, as have we all. As an example, one of them, Dr. Carol Paris, is now president of PNHP. Eight years later, Max Baucus now says that it is time to seriously consider a single-payer, government-run health system. “It’s going to happen,” he says.

It is tempting to celebrate this as a victory for the Baucus 8 over Max Baucus, but actually it is more than that. It is a bittersweet victory for all of us, including Max Baucus. It is tragic that that so many have continued to face unnecessary financial hardship, physical suffering and even death over the past eight years.

But the victory is that the message got through. Single payer is now inevitable. Although we have many to thank for that, at this moment of Max Baucus’ epiphany, we such give special thanks to the Baucus 8.

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