HELENA - With the help of some local Republicans, a national group is trying to rally Montanans - and others - against health care reforms backed by President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.
Patients United Now, a group recently formed by a national foundation that champions conservative causes, is staging public rallies in Montana and running TV ads warning against "government-controlled health care" or a "Washington takeover" of health care.
The group's chief organizer in Montana is Jake Eaton, a former executive director of the Montana Republican Party.
"Our role right now is to stand up and say, 'Let's take a minute, let's not rush to health care reform just for the sake of health care reform,' " he said Friday. "Let's make sure we get the best system that we possibly can.
"We strongly believe that does not include some type of government-run system."
The group held its first public rally Tuesday in Philispburg and scheduled another Friday evening in Helena.
Speaking at the Helena rally were Tim Fox, the Republican candidate for Montana attorney general in 2008, and Steve Daines of Bozeman, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2008. Both men lost their races.
Patients United Now was formed by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a Washington, D.C., group that campaigns against liberal and left-leaning causes and promotes conservative causes.
For example, the foundation has downplayed global warming, opposes the president's efforts to address global warming, and opposed the president's economic stimulus package.
Amy Menefee, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said its support comes from individuals, businesses and other foundations. However, the group doesn't publicly divulge its specific financial supporters, she said.
She said Patients United Now is a "grass-roots effort to connect with patients" who have been ignored in the health care debate.
"We want patients to talk about what they want, and we want reforms to give us more options as patients, and that will not centralize the control of health care decisions in Washington," Menefee said.
Montana is one of several states the group is targeting, she said, primarily because one of its U.S. senators, Max Baucus, is a key player in the health care debate. Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee and has been one of the top congressional leaders on health reforms.
When asked what Patients United Now specifically supports for health care reforms, Menefee said its role is to educate patients on reforms currently proposed.
Eaton said Patients United Now's main focus is to stop reforms being proposed.
"In my opinion, and other folks' opinion, the proposals that are out there right now are not the solution," he said.
The group is particularly opposed to any national, publicly funded health insurance, such as a single-payer system like Canada's, or the formation of a public government-funded health insurance option that people could choose if they don't like their private insurance or have no private insurance.
Eaton, a military veteran, said he gets his health care from the Veterans Admininstration, which is a socialized, government-run system. He said the care is top-notch, but that he often has long wait times for the services that he wants or needs.
Eaton said about 60 people showed up for the group's initial public rally in Philipsburg, and that other rallies are planned in eastern Montana and Kalispell.