Sen. Max Baucus met with advocates for single-payer health care in a closed meeting on Wednesday and expressed regret that he had not included them in the earlier negotiations for reform.
Health-care point man Baucus (D-Mont.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, took a statewide beating last week for dismissing the possibility of a single-payer system early in the debate -- leading to the meeting with health care professionals and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is the sponsor of the Senate's only single-payer bill.
"I don't like paraphrasing other people, I don't like being paraphrased, but I think it's fair to say that what he said is that when he said something to the effect that single-payer is off the table, I think he regrets having said that," Sanders said following a morning closed-door meeting with Baucus. "I think in retrospect he thinks there probably should have been hearings, it should have been part of the process, and then it would have been rejected."
Baucus is under pressure from the White House to get a health care bill to the Senate floor quickly. Those in the meeting said he told them it's too late to include them and add further hearings to the debate.
The Montana senator did, however, agree to use the power of his office to fight for leniency on behalf of the dozen or so doctors and nurses who had been arrested for demanding a single-payer program during committee hearings on health care.
Sanders and the assembled single-payer advocates said they remain committed to advancing a universal, government-run program, though without Baucus that task is much tougher.
"I find it somewhat incomprehensible that if we are serious about getting to health care reform, if we are serious about tackling the outrageously high cost of health care, that we are not engaging in serious discussion about a single-payer health care system," Sanders said.