In Billings, Hospital Execs Skeptical Free Market Can Fix Health Care

By Beacon Staff

Rep. Denny Rehberg’s free-market health care philosophy butted up against the beliefs of Billings hospital executives Monday. Montana’s lone congressman, a Republican, sat down with St. Vincent healthcare administrators, many of whom made the case to Rehberg that a so-called public option is an essential part of any health care reform bill to emerge from Congress, and expressed skepticism that private insurance companies would bring down costs on their own. The administrators also made the point that the current health care system is nothing like a free market, with government programs from medicare to the Children’s Health Insurance Program playing large roles. The Billings Gazette’s Tom Lutey reported on the meeting, with exchanges like this:

“Basically the goal set forth is to cover 97 percent of those who remain in the uninsured ranks,” said Jim Paquette, St. Vincent chief executive officer. “I don’t think the public option is really the issue as long as we set up a system that eliminates the issue of pre-existing conditions. If you eliminate all of that so insurers are not either making money or saving money based on cherry picking, then I think we feel that levels the playing field.”

Rehberg, Montana’s lone member of the U.S. House, was unswayed, insisting that the marketplace can best solve problems with American health care. There might be inefficiencies in the heath care industry now, the Republican said, but government involvement would only make matters worse.

Rehberg has said he would support tax incentives for people to stay healthier, as well as allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines so bigger customer pools can be created.

“I just fundamentally believe it can be done under a free-market system,” Rehberg said.

However for-profit health insurance companies won’t improve the system on their own, said Dr. Walt Pete, St. Vincent Healthcare Board chairman.

“Their job is to deny coverage, deny payment and increase co-payments,” Pete said.

“We’re seeing that now and it’s getting, worse and worse and worse. They’re botching it,” he said.

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