Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Montana’s U.S. Sen. Max Baucus told a packed room at Northern Montana Hospital in Havre Tuesday that a top priority in the next session of Congress will be working “to fix health care.” “I believe that our health care system is in a world of hurt and needs to be fixed in many, many ways,” Baucus said during his 12th and final listening session in the state on health care concerns. Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said one of his highest priorities in the next session of Congress will be introducing legislation to improve the quality and cost of health care in the United States. Baucus, a 30-year veteran of the Senate, is running for re-election against Republican candidate Bob Kelleher. Baucus and a six-person panel addressed a crowd of more than 60 people at the meeting. Baucus, who arrived 30 minutes late due to a delay in his airplane arrival, cut right to the chase after his arrival. “Let’s let her rip,” Baucus said. “Don’t hold any punches and let’s get as much as we can out of this.” Baucus said that while he is not looking to find a single-payer socialized system of medicine, he wants to create a public-private partnership that ensures all Americans receive quality health care. “I think we need a universal system, a comprehensive system ,” he said. “(Now) we have layer upon layer upon layer of stuff. In America, we don’t have a system, we have a conglomeration of groups providing health care.” Panel discusses problems The panel agreed that there are problems. Wayne and Ginger Chagnon told of the troubles they have had finding care and rehabilitation for their son Ryan after he was injured in a car accident. “We’ve been battling this and living with this seven-and-a-half years,” Wayne Chagnon said. He said that the most recent happening in his son’s care and rehabilitation has been to move to a treatment facility in Missoula, which looks promising. “We’ve got the facilities but he’s 275 miles away,” Wayne Chagnon said. The two talked about a series of problems in receiving good care from hospitals, finding therapy, having insurance benefits cut, much higher costs at the Havre hospital than at Great Falls hospitals, even undergoing insulting psychological interviews in an attempt to enter their son in the Medicaid system to help pay expenses. “When you have your kid lying there and thinking he’s going to die, now you have to deal with the medical system, I am not sure what is worse,” Ginger Chagnon said. Panelist Dave Henry, president and CEO of Northern Montana Hospital, addressed the issue of higher costs in Havre. Henry said Northern has a higher percentage of patients who are never able to pay their full bill, which forces the hospital to raise its prices in order to compensate for those losses. “I agree with you, the charges are outlandish ,” Henry said. “We never get paid the (full amount) that’s just the way it goes.” Problems for seniors Evelyn Havskjold, director of the Hill County Council on Aging, said she has three main concerns. One is the classification of the regions for assistance Havre competes against Billings, the largest city in the state, for rural assistance. “We’d like to have more pilot projects for what is called frontier Montana,” she said. Two other problems are having senior citizens cut out of funding for aid to pay for their prescription medications, and also problems receiving aid to obtain long-term care, Havskjold said, forcing people to leave nursing homes. “We hear about foreclosure of homes, but we’re also hearing about medical care foreclosure,” she said. Lack of coordination Barb Stiffarm of Opportunity Link said one problem is a lack of coordination between agencies. A major problem is transportation to cover the vast distances in north-central Montana to reach health care, with insurance and assistance programs often refusing to pay transportation costs, she said. Stiffarm said collaboration and coordination of programs including the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, the Veteran’s Affairs Administration and the Department of Public Health could help reduce problems in health care. Several in the audience also told Baucus about problems they have had. Charles Plumage, a Vietnam veteran and enrolled member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, said he ended up receiving a kidney transplant in Portland, Ore., after continuous problems trying to find ways to receive the transplant. Both the VA and the Indian Health Service told him he was not eligible for aid, he said. In a final twist, Plumage said he had been traveling to the VA clinic in Great Falls to see a specialist, but the specialist then moved to Havre. As the VA clinic no longer had the specialist, it contracted with the practice in Havre to provide care for Plumage. But he still has to go to the Great Falls VA clinic to meet the specialist, Plumage said. “The VA won’t let me see him here,” Plumage said. “I have to go see him in Great Falls.” A top priority for Baucus Baucus said there are many options in working to improve the health care, and he will give it top priority when Congress convenes next year. He said that while there will be a new president at that time, whether Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama is elected, that won’t change the work that needs to be done. Party lines in Congress also should not have an impact on the issue, Baucus said. “We’re not Democrats or Republicans, we’re Americans, and we have to get this done,” Baucus said.