HELENA - Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Wednesday he will ask the U.S. government to let Montana set up its own universal health care program, taking his rhetorical fight over health care to another level.
Like Republicans who object to the federal health care law, the Democratic governor also argues it doesn't do enough to control costs and says his state should have more flexibility than the law allows. But Schweitzer has completely different plans for the Medicare and Medicaid money the federal government gives the state to administer those programs.
The popular second-term Democrat would like to create a state-run system that borrows from the program used in Saskatchewan. He said the Canadian province controls cost by negotiating drug prices and limiting non-emergency procedures such as MRIs.
From the limited information here it sounds like what Schweitzer is proposing is halfway between a public option and a true single-payer system. He wants to fold all Montanans currently getting insurance through the government (Medicare, Medicaid, government employees, etc.) into one program, and -- and this is critical -- let anyone else who wants buy into that program. But unlike a true single-payer plan, people would still be able to get insurance from private insurers. He predicts "It'll be a lonely place over there at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, I'm afraid," since so many people will choose the government's superior insurance.
I guess in a state that borders Canada, noting that there are things one can learn from our neighbors to the north isn't as shocking as it might be elsewhere. And this serves as an important reminder: Yes, there are Republican governors working to undermine the Affordable Care Act and keep the health insurance systems in their states as crappy as possible. But at the same time, there are some bold Democrats doing just the opposite (Vermont is also moving toward a single-payer system, for instance). If some of those efforts are successful, they could spread.