The press release today:
FOLLOWING RANCOR AMONG THE RANKS,
BAUCUS ASSURES MONTANA CONSTITUENTS:
"I WANT A PUBLIC OPTION TOO"

U.S. Senator Max Baucus has finally broken his silence regarding his personal position on including a public option in health care reform legislation. Last Monday night (8/17), in an unprecedented conference call to Montana Democratic central committee chairs, the powerful leader of the Senate Finance Committee told his strongest supporters that he supported a public option.

While discussing the obstacles to getting a public option through the Senate, he assured his forty listeners, "I want a public option too!"

The conference call was groundbreaking in that none of the recipients could ever remember this kind of call ever happening before. The teleconference was set up seemingly in reaction to rising discontent among the local Democratic leaders with the Senator’s failure to take a clear position on the issue.

The discussion, which became contentious and rancorous at times, also touched upon the wisdom of creating insurance cooperatives as an alternative to a public option. When several of the county chairs objected, commenting that they did not trust the health insurance companies to police themselves and limit their outrageous corporate profits, Baucus commented, "Neither do I."

In the aftermath of the teleconference, a coalition of eighteen Montana counties in the Senator’s home state decided to move forward with their plan to issue a Unified Statement accompanied by a joint press release. The statement sends a loud and clear message to their Senator: Any health care reform package coming out of his Senate Finance Committee must contain, at a minimum, a provision for a strong public option.

The action is a show of unity not previously seen in Montana political history. The statement asserts, "Here in Montana, the need for real health care reform could not be greater. Families, small business, and small ranches and farms are suffering and being crushed by the rising cost of health care. Thousands of Montanans are uninsured, and many more are losing their homes, businesses and ranches due to exorbitant medical bills."

Calling themselves the Coalition of the United Montana Democratic Central Committees, the group’s statement announces it has "established a position in support of a strong public option as an essential element in health care reform." In specifying the necessary components needed for such a public option, they list:

• National Coverage
• Availability to all Americans
• Portability, which includes maintaining coverage even if one loses his or her job
• No exclusions for preexisting conditions, denial of coverage if one gets ill, or develops catastrophic costs
• Publicly run and administered with full transparency and accountability to congress
• No triggers

Christina Quijano, a Billings physician, is Chair of the Carbon County Democratic Central Committee. Carbon County is located in south-central Montana not far from Yellowstone National Park. Speaking for the Coalition, she pointed out, "For this number of counties from all across Montana to join together sends a strong signal to our representatives in Washington that their constituents here in Big Sky Country are unified and stand firm in their insistence that a public option be included in any health care reform bill."

Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont) has said he would not vote against a public option, while Montana’s sole US representative, Denny Rehberg (R-Mont) remains opposed to such a measure.

Max Baucus, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has emerged as a key player in the ongoing health care reform deliberations and, until now, has remained quiet about his personal view. In the final portion of the Coalition’s Unified Statement, Quijano emphasizes Senator Baucus’ significant role in this piece of legislation: "We are counting on Senator Baucus to use his influence and leadership to create the most meaningful legacy of our times, real health care reform. ‘Max, Montana’s Senator’, please don’t let Montana down!"

Among the other counties in the Coalition is Missoula County, where Baucus got his start in politics as a State Representative. Also joining Carbon and Missoula Counties in adopting the Unified Statement are Beaverhead County, Dawson County, Fergus County, Golden Valley County, Hill County, Jefferson County, Lake County, Madison
County, Meagher County, Ravalli County, Richland County, Roosevelt County, Rosebud County, Sheridan County, Sweet Grass County, and Teton County.

I posted the actual resolution and my take on how this happened over at http://montanamaven.com