Schweitzer touts state employee clinic to US Health and Human Services Representative

Governor Brian Schweitzer is not missing an opportunity to push forward his agenda—right up to the end of his term.

Schweitzer met with the regional director of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

He used the meeting to tout his state employee health clinic in Helena.

Schweitzer also argued for Montana being able to import lower cost pharmaceuticals from Canada, which he has been advocating since before his first run for Governor.

“This is a model for how health care ought to be delivered in this country,” Schweitzer said to U.S. Health and Human Services Regional Director Marguerite Salazar.

He was talking about the Health Clinic his administration opened this Summer in Helena. Only state employees can use the clinic and the money for it comes directly from the fund used for the health insurance of those employees. Schweitzer says it saves money through focusing on preventive care and by paying staff salary or by the hour to lower unnecessary procedures.

“Our employees don’t make a dime more or a dime less if they give more procedures to each patient,” he said. “Their job is a healthy outcome.”

Regional Director Salazar says Health and Human Services is paying attention to the clinic. It Is the first of its kind in the country and Salazar calls it innovative.

“And that’s why I want to go visit it so I can take it back to the other states and see if this is something they would like to do,” Salazar said.

Schweitzer says he wants to see the clinic expand beyond Helena.

“Unfortunately, today we only have one of those clinics,” he said. “We would like to offer that clinic service to state employees across the state of Montana but as time goes on we will get those clinics open as well.”

He says he would eventually like to see the idea grow into a sort of public health option for all Montanans.

Schweitzer leaves office at the end of the year, to be replaced by fellow-democrat Steve Bullock. Bullock has expressed support for the clinics but has not been specific about a timetable for expanding them.

Governor Schweitzer did tell Director Salazar there is one thing holding the health clinic back, not being able to purchase pharmaceuticals and what he calls a ‘world price.’

“That’s why we’ve asked the Secretary to do what she has been given the authority to do which is to grant Montana the right to re-import medicine from Canada,” he said, meaning US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Schweitzer has been fighting for this idea since his unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in the year 2000. He says Medicare Part D passed in 2003 has prevented the Federal Government from negotiating the prices of prescription drugs. As a result, he says, drugs are cheaper north of the border, which is why he has been asking Secretary Sebelius to import them.

“I think you’ve asked her at least three times officially?” Regional Director Salazar asked.

“Well if you think it would help to ask again I’d be more than willing to do that,” Schweitzer said, following with, “but when you identify a problem and you provide a solution and nobody can think of a reason why it’s not a good idea and you can’t get a response. What do you think we think out here in Montana?”

“I know the secretary has considered it, even though she hasn’t given him a response, I think it’s because she doesn’t know what yet her decision will be,” Salazar said in an interview after the meeting. She says Secretary Sebelius is truly worried about the safety of medications across the border.

“Because we don’t know what they are and that’s her number one concern, she doesn’t have enough people in the FDA to be able to monitor and check all these drugs,” she said.

Importing prescription drugs from Canada will probably not be an accomplishment Brian Schweitzer can add to his gubernatorial legacy. Yet, the Regional Director of US Health and Human Services said she wanted to hold the meeting with Schweitzer to tell him what a good job she thought he has done in office.

And she did not leave without getting an autograph.

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