By Dustin Hurst
Montana Watchdog, April 13, 2012
MISSOULA — As Americans struggle with the rising health care costs, some Montana Democrats say the controversial single-payer system would harness those out-of-control expenses.
Five of seven candidates seeking to become Montana’s lone congressman responded to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the national health care law and domestic centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s administration, during a debate Thursday on the University of Montana campus here.
They are competing for the lone U.S. House of Representative seat being vacated by Denny Rehberg, a Republican, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester for his U.S. Senate seat.
Helena lawyer Rob Stutz said either the federal government should create a single-payer insurance program or go with the public option.
Under the single-payer model, residents would pay the government for health insurance coverage and then the feds would pay for medical services. The government could contract for health care from private organizations or could own and employ health-care services and personnel.
Stutz emphasized that state and local governments already cover medical expenses for those who cannot afford to do so, such as unpaid emergency room visits. A single-payer structure, he said, would streamline the system.
“I think it will save us money,” he said. “We’re all absorbing the cost in very inefficient way.”
State Rep. Franke Wilmer, D-Bozeman, said the patchwork of single-payer systems the government now offers, including veterans’ Tri-Care and Medicare and Medicaid, could be combined into a single program down the road.
“I don’t care how we do it, but we need to get to smarter health care that covers everybody, certainly everybody who works,” Wilmer said.
Instead of forcing the program on states, Wilmer supported a federal insurance plan that allows states to “opt-in.”
The public option, which was lost in the federal health-care debate, would have allowed the federal government to sell insurance coverage in the private marketplace.
Whitefish entrepreneur Diane Smith backed the single-payer idea, though she said that if Congress would stop “coddling” the insurance industry, the private sector might develop a program “almost as good” as single-payer system.
Billings farmer Jason Ward said he wouldn’t mind going to a single-payer model, but wants the federal government to fix problems with the health insurance industry before constructing a larger coverage scheme.
Billings Realtor Sam Rankin supported the single-payer plan but said he doubts it will come up soon.
“We’re going to get there,” Rankin said. “The health care system we have now is a mess and everyone knows it.”
The single-payer approach also would remove politics from the insurance argument, as evidenced with contraceptive coverage, Stutz said.
Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier and state Rep. Kim Gillan, D-Billings, addressed the contraceptive issue at the debate. When Montana Watchdog contacted them for comment on the single-payer system, Strohmaier refused to comment and Gillan was unable to do so.