Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
State Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, was on an airplane flight back to Montana this morning after attending a meeting between state legislators and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Wednesday to discuss national health care reform. “It’s a huge issue,” Windy Boy said in a telephone interview from the airport in Minneapolis. Windy Boy is one of 30 state legislators appointed to the State Legislators for Health Reform who will work with Sebelius in advising the members of Congress drafting a bill to reform health care in the country. That group is being spearheaded by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “We will be dealing directly with Secretary Sebelius and some of her staff to try to collaborate and get the message together and to our senators, in our case Baucus,” Windy Boy said. Sebelius, quoted in a press release, said the legislators' input will be valuable in reforming health care. “As a former governor, I know that state legislators can be an incredible asset as we work to make reform a reality,” Sebelius said. “These leaders see why we need health reform every day because they are living in communities where families and businesses are struggling with skyrocketing health care costs. State legislators know firsthand how the high cost of care is impacting their state budget and forcing incredibly tough choices. They are hearing from constituents who can’t get the care they need, and they are committed to reform that builds on what works and fixes what doesn’t.” White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle said bringing local input is crucial to the reform. “Lots of people in Washington are talking about health care, but the most important conversations about health care are happening around kitchen tables in cities and towns across America,” DeParle said. “State legislators will help ensure Americans across the country know how health reform can help improve health care for all of us.” The meeting included the presentation of a letter, signed by more than 700 legislators from 47 states, which called for any federal reform bill to include a public health insurance option, strong affordibility protections, and shared employer responsibility for health care costs. The letter was formally accepted by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, on behalf of the Senate and Reps. Steve Kagen, D-Wisc., and Rep. Chellie Pingree , D-Maine, on behalf of the House. Windy Boy said today that the legislator group will be sharing the state’s perspectives on what is working and what is not working in the health care industry. He will push to make sure the issues in Montana also are heard, he added. He said most of the members of the group probably don’t know the issues faced in a rural state like Montana, where a shortage of medical providers and the immense distances cause different problems than are faced in states like New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Georgia. “Hopefully I will be working with Baucus' office, making sure Montana is heard here, because Baucus is definitely key,” Windy Boy said. Windy Boy said the issues he primarily focused on at the meeting were the difficulties of receiving health care in a rural area and the stress it puts on small businesses. Often, due to the cost of providing health care, small businesses don’t even offer it to their employees, he said. The main focus at Wednesday’s meeting was the short time-frame involved, Windy Boy said. Congress plans to start marking up the bill after the July 4 recess, he said. “Things are probably going to change pretty fast,” he said. Part of the legislator group’s purpose is to provide information on different options from a state perspective, he said, probably including looking at a single-payer option, where the government oversees all insurance and health care, and having a public insurance option along with private insurance. Windy Boy said he plans to hold hearings, probably in Havre, to collect ideas and input. He said he wants to put together a diverse group to oversee such a hearing, including representatives of the health care industry, the insurance industry and the small business community.