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Baucus talks to Legislature hostile to health care

HELENA — U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, a key figure in developing the federal health care law, is selling the program back home to a Republican-led Legislature openly hostile to what they derisively call "Obamacare."

Baucus, speaking Friday afternoon to a joint session of Montana lawmakers, said he understands there are strong feelings but argued both sides should work to make it better in certain areas. Most Republicans in the room sat stoically through his speech.

Made the Democrats' sales pitch

Baucus reinforced the high points of the Democratic sales pitch for the law.

He said it will relieve those with insurance from having to pick up the tab for the uninsured who can't pay big hospital bills, which increase costs for everyone else. He said those costs currently add $2,100 to individual insurance premiums.

Baucus said the law already is letting parents keep college-aged children on their plans. Soon insurance companies will have to cover pre-existing conditions, he pointed out. And 26,000 Montana small businesses will qualify for tax cuts this year because of the law, the senator said.

Baucus said the measure will reduce costs and deficit spending, a notion Republicans don't believe will happen.

"Let's rise above the rhetoric on both sides and look at the challenges and imperfections before us, and move forward together," Baucus said.

GOP unfazed

Republicans remained unconvinced.

"I think he is out of touch with what the people really want," said Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings. "He is trying to sell something that the people reject on a daily basis."

Later in the day, Republicans pitched plans for an amendment to the Montana Constitution that would buck mandates and fines for not participating in the federal health care law. Other proposals aim to stymie implementation through state agencies or force a lawsuit with the federal government over the issue.

Baucus remained an enthusiastic supporter of the legislation he helped write. He said many are still learning the benefits of the new law and will like it more as they see the details.

"The law is enacted. It is in place," Baucus said later to reporters.

Senator keep open mind of costs

The senator said he is open to dealing with cost concerns many states have, and other issues.

"I can have an open mind," he said. "Let's look and see."

President Barack Obama has also been saying this week he is open to small changes, but is not interested in rehashing the whole health care debate.

Republicans did stand and clap loudly when Baucus said he will continue to work to get wolves back under state control, which would allow a hunt of the animals despised by many ranchers.


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