BELGRADE - As Gov. Brian Schweitzer warmed up the crowd Friday for President Barack Obama, he paid a lengthy compliment to a health-care system that leading Democrats, including the president, have declared "off the table" as a reform here: the Canadian single-payer system.
"Did you know that, just 300 miles north of here, did you know they offered universal health care 62 years ago?" he said, referring to Canada's system of providing government-funded health insurance for all citizens.
Schweitzer, a Democrat, said he sometimes mentions the Canadian system when he hears people say that universal health coverage is a radical, new idea being rushed through the political process.
Quoting a Canadian journalist, Schweitzer said "there's more likelihood of a person in Canada being struck by lightning, then there is a likelihood of a Canadian going to the United States for their health care."
Most of the crowd of 1,300 in the Gallatin Field Airport hangar roared in approval.
Schweitzer also noted how former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas, considered the father of the Canadian health system, was recently voted in a nationwide poll as Canada's most popular person in history.
Each Canadian province provides health insurance for all of its citizens, funded by the provincial and state governments. Canadian citizens see private physicians, who bill the province for the care they provide.
Canada's government insurance covers most basic health care for all citizens, on an equal basis. This type of government-funded insurance is often called a "single-payer system," because one "payer" - the government - covers basic medical care.
Minutes later, Obama made it clear that he does not favor adopting such a system in the United States.
"I'm not in favor of a Canadian system, I'm not in favor of a British system, I'm not in favor of a French system," he said. "What we've said is let's find a uniquely American system."
Obama said the majority of people in America get health insurance through their employers, and "we want to build on that."
"For us to completely change that, it would be too disruptive," he continued. "Max (Baucus) and I agree, that's not the right way to go."
Baucus, D-Mont., who also spoke before Obama appeared, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which is drawing up a key health-reform bill. Baucus has said from the beginning that considering a single-payer system for the United States is "off the table," because it's not politically possible.