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Ice cream and health reform


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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

Despite rainy skies and a slow start, organizers of an ice cream social and discussion of health care reform were pleased with the final turnout. “We had a great crowd, more than we expected,” said Jennifer Hensler, lead organizer of meetings set by Montana Change that Works. A group of volunteers is driving to 22 cities over 11 days in an ambulance in the Emergency Drive for Montana's Middle Class, a push to mobilize grassroots support for health care reform. The Havre stop was the third day in the event, which started at the State Fair in Great Falls Sunday. The group drove their ambulance to other stops including Big Sandy Monday and Chester before coming to Havre Tuesday. The volunteers gathered in Havre's Pepin Park at 4:30 p.m., Serving ice cream and hot chocolate, talking to people who came to the event, gathering data on their health insurance, and encouraging writing letters to Montana's Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg, as well as to their newspapers. Baucus has been spearheading the work to write health care legislation in the Senate Finance Committee, which he chairs. Mo n ta n a Ch a n ge t h a t Works, organi zed by the S e r v i c e E m p l o y e e s International Union, has been holding meetings throughout the state for several months to organize support for health care reform working through Congress and to gather stories about people's problems with h e a l t h c a r e t o s e n d t o Washington. “We need a face to go with the stories,” Hensler said to a group of people during the meeting. “That's why we're talking to Montanans.” Bob Struckman, public relations manager for Montana Change that Works, said the stories have been amazing. A woman from Conrad told him that she needed work done on her hip and found it would cost $60,000 at a Montana hospital. She went to New Delhi, India, and had the operation done for $16,000 including travel expenses, Struckman said. Hensler said one of the people at the Big Sandy meeting Monday told a story of having health insurance but still needing to pay $48,000 out-ofpocket expenses after major medical care. People at the meet ing agreed with the volunteers something needs to be done to change health care in the United States and soon. Some of the items discussed at the meeting Tuesday included rapidly increasing insurance premium cos t s and copayments, skyrocket ing medical costs and people's inability to get insurance due to costs and people being refused insurance due to their health or pre-existing conditions. Virginia Wells of Hingham said she has health insurance and isn't worried about herself but she worries about people who don't have health insurance and about the future generations. “I'm concerned about my grandchildren and greatgrandchildren,” she said. “I'm concerned about their health care.” Wells, and others, said that it is a shame that a country as well-off as the United States has as many people without health insurance, or filing bankruptcy due to medical bills even if they do have insurance. “I t 's just immoral that everybody isn't covered in this country,” Bonnie Mosbrucker of Havre said. Former state Rep. John Musgrove said during an interview at the meeting that, while he doesn't think the legislation working through Congress now will solve all of the problems people have with health care, it is a beginning. “We have to start someplace ,” he said. “We should have started a long time ago.” Musgrove said people are throwing around buzz words like “socialized medicine” trying to raise opposition to the proposed reform, but they are missing the point. “The Constitution mandates that we have to provide for the health and welfare of our citizens, and we're not doing it,” he said. H a v r e C i t y C o u n c i l Pres ident Al len “Woody” Woodwick said he agrees with the message Montana Change that Works is spreading. “I think the sign there says it all,” he said. “We can't wait for affordable health care. “I think it's totally out of whack, and it needs to be addressed and needs to be addressed correctly.” Woodwick said many ideas a r e b e i n g d i s c u s s e d i n Congress as to how to reform health care, which he said is good. He added that he would like to see a public option, where the government offers a health insurance policy to U.S. citizens, but he isn't sure if that will stay in the final package. “There are a lot of details to finalize, a lot of work to be done, and that's what the guys in Washington are doing,” he said. Hensler said the turnout at all of the meetings so far has been good, and the discussion of health care needs has been excellent. Kiki Hubbard, a rural health care advocate with the Center For Rural Affairs, said she is traveling with Montana Change that Works on the drive, focusing on the need to improve health care in rural areas. “We want people to know how important their voices are, from Whitefish to Wolf Point, that their voices will be heard in Washington,” she said. Hubbard said a recent study found that Montana has the largest number of unemployed farmers and ranchers in the country. Struckman and Hubbard also talked about some of the ideas raised in opposition to the reform, including the idea that people would be forced to join a public health insurance plan. “No one would be forced to join a public option. The public option would provide competition,” Struckman said. “The key is choice. We want to have as many choices as possible “Too many places, there are no choices,” he said. He said the idea that businesses would drop their insurance for employees if a public option were available seems unlikely. Both Struckman and Hubbard said most of the business owners to whom they speak want to provide insurance for their employees. “Right now our system doesn't work,” he said. “Every day I talk to business owners who can't buy insurance or who pay exorbitant fees for coverage that really doesn't help them or their employees.”


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