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Talking health in Havre


Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

Staff members of Montana's U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in Havre Wednesday at Northern Montana Hospital heard comments across the spectrum of ideas for reforming health care in the United States. Those included back-to-back comments on how the government should not be involved in health care and how it should implement a singlepayer health care system. Dave Henry, chief executive officer and president of Northern Montana Hospital, told people they need to decide what they want from health care. “What we're talking about is change, significant change ,” said Henry, member of the panel at the Havre session. “What are you willing to give up?” At a critical point Paul Wilkins, Baucus' legislative director, introduced the session with a PowerPoint presentation on the issues and what Baucus has done so far. He said Congress plans to write legislation that would reform the health care system this summer and over the fall. “It's really at a critical point,” Wilkins said, adding that Baucus wanted to present what has been done so far and collect more ideas from Montana constituents before proceeding with Drafting legislation. Baucus' staff members spread across the state this week to do so, with nine meetings scheduled for Tuesday, eight set for Wednesday and three today. Wilkins said the meetings are extremely valuable at every meeting he hears three or four new ideas or problems he had not thought of. Wilkins said that more information, including the 89-page white paper Baucus released about health care reform last fall titled “Call to Action,” are available at http://www.finance.senate. gov. Other information is available at Baucus' site, http://baucus. Senate.gov, under the “Issues” link. During the Havre meeting, Henry and the other members of the panel, Harry Bold, administrator of the Big Sandy Medical Center; registered nurse Cindy Smith, executive director of Bullhook Community Medical Center in Havre; and Dr. Joseph Marino of Northern Montana Hospital, made comments before the microphone was turned over to audience members. A variety of issues were raised, including people having to sell off all assets and losing their savings before entering a long-term care facility, finding something to help provide for the needs of adults with developmental disabilities and making sure that children have access to health insurance. Other topics included tort reform, trying to reduce costs caused by lawsuits, the cost of fraud, the cost of duplicating services, the cost of drug companies advertising prescription drugs on television and in print media, and the need to find better technology for record keeping. Marino said the time spent by doctors typing reports and files could be much better spent. “A physician is probably the most expensive typist you want to hire,” he said. Concern on government action or inaction Rowlie Hutton of the Fifth Avenue Christian Church in Havre said he is concerned that if the government starts working on health care, his options will decrease. “Any time somebody says, I'm here from the government, and I'm here to help you,' I get a little leery,” Hutton said. Wilkins said Baucus doesn't want to limit choices, but expand them. Baucus, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee who is spearheading medical reform in Washington, wants to make sure people can afford insurance and aren't excluded from the insurance process, he said. “We're trying to put more options out there and more affordable options,” Wilkins said. In his introduction, Wilkins talked about the need for action now. The United States has one of the most expensive health care systems in the world, and the cost of health care continues to increase much faster than people's wages. At the same time, the U.S. is ranked 37th in industrialized countries for the quality of medical care, Wilkins said. Experts estimate that by 2016 half of a family's income will be used to pay for health care costs, Wilkins said, adding that the costs now are destroying family finances. “Every 30 seconds a family files bankruptcy due to medical costs,” he said. Revamping a unique' system Some said the reform needs to start at the top, with the U.S. government listening more to what other governments are doing and providing all options for people to look at including a single-payer system where the government would administer all health insurance and health care. “I think all the options should be on the table,” one audience member said. Wilkins said Baucus has been looking at all options including a single-payer system, but does not want to lose the advantages of the American public-private system, which he said is unique. In some instances, that system is working, Wilkins said. “We want to make sure we keep that unique, American private- public partnership and make it better,” he said. The problem with a singlepayer system is that it eliminates peoples' choices, Wilkins said. “People who like what they have can't keep it,” he said. “That's why Max does not support it.” Wilkins said Baucus' goal is to make sure that the people in control of the U.S. health care system are the U.S. residents and health care providers. One of the options Baucus is examining is an insurance exchange, Wilkins said, in which insurance companies would enter a pool from which U.S. residents could apply for coverage. Companies would be expected to meet requirements to enter the exchange, and it could include a governmentadministered option, he said. After one audience member asked why the government is trying to take over health care, Wilkins said the government already is heavily involved, making about half of the payments to the health care industry. What Baucus is trying to do is keep that partnership and make it more efficient, make it work better, Wilkins said. Henry also commented on that issue. He said that at Northern Montana Hospital, the ratio is higher. That also leads to defaulted payments and small payment plans, he added. Henry said the hospital has more than $20 mi l l ion in accounts receivable. “Who wants to pay that off?” he asked.


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