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 nonemergency procedures such as MRIs.
Sounds awesome! But Schweitzer acknowledges the proposal faces a steep hurdle—the federal government.
The governor said he expects the request will be rejected, like federal officials recently did with his proposal to let him sell prescription drugs at Medicaid prices to all Montanans.
"At the least it will create some dialogue, some discussion," Schweitzer said.
We'll be looking into the ACA waiver process, and how it might apply to this and a similar effort in Vermont, but Schweitzer certainly seems pessimistic about it. His real wish? The much-maligned "Medicare for all" approach that would've expanded the popular government program in a easy-to-understand way (and with a three-page bill).
During the health care debate in Washington, D.C., two years ago, only the most liberal lawmakers were calling for some form of the doomed proposals for "Medicare for all." But Schweitzer continues to argue that a program like that makes much more sense than the one signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The governor told Marguerite Salazar, a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services, that Congress has designed a "pack of crap" that gives away far too much to the pharmaceutical industry.
Schweitzer has long been a populist on health care issues, going back to his first Senate run in 2000, so this isn't out of character for him. But this new push certainly burnishes his progressive creds heading into either a Senate race in 2014, or the presidential contest in 2016.