HELENA - Missoula physician Meg Sarnecki, who practices at a clinic that serves mostly low-income patients, won't be at work on Monday.

She'll be at the White House instead, meeting with President Barack Obama.

Sarnecki is one of at least 50 physicians from across the nation who will join the president for a press event to emphasize the need for health care reform.

"I'm still sort of flabbergasted by the whole idea that the White House has invited us to come, and to get to be the one (physician) from Montana," she said Friday afternoon. "I really feel blessed by the whole situation."

The White House said in a statement that the physicians will "share their unique perspective on the struggles that American families face every day when it comes to health care."

"The president and the doctors agree that inaction is no longer an option, as so many people from all across America face rising costs and growing insecurity with their health insurance."

Sarnecki is going as part of the group Doctors for America, a national organization of physicians that says it's advocating for reforms that will lead to affordable health coverage and better access for all citizens to quality care.

"It's a group of physicians across the country who believe that the system needs change," Sarnecki says." There are a lot of physicians in Montana that are really interested in getting some effective health care reform passed."

And what does Sarnecki think of the proposals before Congress?

She's "pretty happy" with the U.S. House bill, which has passed out of committee and awaits action on the floor, but is "much less happy with what Baucus has put forward."

Max Baucus, of course, is the Montana Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and who is sponsoring one of the main health reform bills.

His Finance Committee completed work early Friday morning on amendments to the bill and may take a final vote this week.

Sarnecki said she doesn't like the Baucus bill because it does not include a public, government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers.

"I don't like the idea of mandated, private health insurance without a public option," she said. "To make that affordable, we need a public option to give people some competition and choice in

that matter."

Baucus' bill, among other things, would require all Americans without health insurance to buy it starting in 2013, or face tax penalties. The measure also includes federal subsidies to help people with low or moderate income afford private insurance.

Sarnecki is a family practice physician at Partnership Health Center, a federally funded clinic in downtown Missoula. About two-thirds of its patients have no health insurance and the center charges on a sliding scale tied to one's income, offering low prices for those without much money, she said.

Sarnecki said the White House invited physicians for Monday's event in Washington, D.C., asking Doctors for America for at least one doctor from each state. Sarnecki flew to Washington on Sunday from San Francisco, where she had been visiting her sister.

The event also offered another pleasant surprise for Sarnecki: Her father, Jan Sarnecki, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Neenah, Wis., is going to the White House as the physician from Wisconsin.

"It was totally random," she said.

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