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Baucus sets health care listening sessions


Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

Sen. Max Baucus has set a series of sessions around the state for his staff members to gather suggestions on health care reform. Sessions were scheduled today at the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations and a meeting in Havre at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Baucus, D-Mont., chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is spearheading a high-profile effort in Washington to write legislation revamping health care, particularly the availability or requirement of health insurance. The reform could provide insurance for 50 million Americans now without health insurance. Baucus' staff members were set to hold nine meetings today, ranging from Whitefish to Glendive and eight, including the Havre meeting, Wednesday, wrapping up with three on Thursday. The Havre meeting starts at 9 a.m. at Northern Montana Hospital. Baucus said last week he hopes to introduce legislation by mid-June, and the meetings are intended to inform Montanans what that legislation is looking like and to collect comments from constituents. Staff members at the meetings will forWard comments collected back to Baucus. Baucus held 12 listening sessions in Montana last year to collect input on how to reform health care, wrapping up the series with a session in Havre in October. Baucus has attracted national attention for his efforts to push through health care reform, including some not-so-good publicity. Baucus has been attacked by some groups for not pushing for a single-payer system, under which the government would oversee all health insurance and health care in the country, and also for stating up-front that his plan would not cover illegal immigrants, which he called “too politically explosive.” President Barack Obama said earlier this month that trying to convert the U.S. health care system to a single payer system is not practical. Baucus has said that there is not enough support in the country for a single-payer system for the proposal to pass. Several advocates of single-payer health care were arrested earlier this month when they protested being barred from inclusion at hearings Baucus chaired. The plan advocated by Baucus would use funding by private individuals, businesses and the government to provide health insurance. The plan likely would offer insurance through employer plans, private insurance and a government-administered plan, with the choice of where to buy insurance up to the consumer. Paying for the plan estimated to cost between $1.2 trillion and $1.7 trillion over 10 years is a major topic of discussion at this stage. The health care industry has pledged to Obama that it will rein in increases in health care costs, saying it will prevent some $2 trillion in increases over 10 years. Some tax increases have been proposed, including taxing some health insurance benefits possibly based on income, and taxing sugary drinks and alcohol. The drink proposal would raise taxes on alcohol and set hard liquor, beer and wine at the same level. Hard liquor now has the highest rate. Under a proposal made last week, taxes on a six-pack of beer would go from 33 cents to 48 cents, on a bottle of wine from 21 cents to 49 cents and from $2.14 to $2.54 on a fifth of liquor. The alcohol tax would raise an estimated $60 billion over 10 years. The proposal could also tax sweetened drinks, such as soda. Putting a 3-cent tax per six-pack of pop could raise $50 billion over 10 years. Supporters of those taxes say the new rates would tax items that contribute to health problems and cause increased medical costs. Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.


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