09/29/2013 01:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ignorance Is Bad for Your Health

We were in Montana last weekend. We had not expected the visit to provide a preview of this week's bizarre performance by the Republican Party.

Montana's soon to be senior Senator (Max Bauchus is retiring), Jon Tester, has attracted an unusual amount of attention recently by opposing Larry Summer's appointment to the Fed chair (he's on the Senate Banking committee so his opposition was not empty political rhetoric), opposing the Monsanto Protection Act and sponsoring a constitutional amendment to effectively repeal the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Sen. Tester is the only U.S. senator who is a real, honest-to-goodness working farmer. We thought it would be interesting to see if there's substance behind the headlines, to see if politics can still work.

So we drove to Big Sandy, Montana for the Senator's "Fourth Annual A Day on the Farm" event. We met the Senator among 50 or so of his Montana constituents, many of whom are strongly attached to their perspectives. When we noted areas in which we disagreed with his positions, Sen. Tester politely pointed out that even he and his wife don't always agree. Later, he said to the group "(W)hat's missing in Washington, D.C. ... is the ability for people to get together and do what's best, and work for the community, and work for families, and move forward." Right.

Tester has also supported the Affordable Care Act despite rabid attacks from Montana Republicans. The Republican Party appears absolutely terrified that ObamaCare will work, that people will like having access to health care. The Party and their media allies have trafficked a lot of nonsense to the public, frequently tipping over into blatant misinformation and outright lies.

Senator Tester provided a telling example of the consequences of the resulting confusion and ignorance among voters. (For those who don't speak rapid-fire Montanan, a condensed transcript is provided below.)

America has the most expensive health care on earth. For that huge expenditure (17.6% of U.S. GDP), the World Health Organization ranks the U.S. health system 37th, just ahead of Slovenia. In terms of efficiency, Bloomberg ranks the United States 46th, well behind Mexico, Thailand, Cuba and Greece, and immediately behind Iran. We pay too much and get too little. People are dying because of it ... families ruined. Ignorance is killing us.

• • •

Condensed Transcript, Sen. Jon Tester:

I was getting on an airplane Monday morning, as I always do, and there was a lady that came up to me and started visiting with me -- and I recognized that she was from south of here a bit -- and started talking to me about health care and how I need to work to get it undone. And I said, "Why would I want to do that?" And she said, "Well, because of those death panels." And I said, "There are no death panels in the health, Affordable Care Act," and there are not. And she said, "Well, it's because the Federal government is going to get between my doctor and myself and they're going to tell me what procedures have to be done." And by the way, that's totally baloney. TOTALLY baloney. And she said, "Well, it's, it's just a bad bill, is where it ended up." And I said, "Well, you know, my kids..." The deal was, by the way -- my daughter will deny this now but she's here, so you get to ask her -- my kids were going to take over the farm if I got elected to this job. But the truth is, my daughter has a great job, my son-in-law has a great job, and they have health care benefits. That's not the way it is, those in agriculture know that. You come back to the farm, you're on your own. So they said, "Time out" and I would have done the same thing. So I told her that. I said, "You know, until people can afford to get sick, people can't move from job to job, they can't afford to take chances, to startup a new business because they won't have health care -- it's just really, dozens of things that are negative to our economy." And she looked at me and she said, "Well, I've never had health care. And I've got cancer." And I said, "How'd that work for you?" And she said, "Well, I could get on Medicaid." (laughs) To which I said, "I've got to get through the security line... ." (laughs)

Now, the fact is there are a lot of things we can fix in health care as we go forward and that's going to be a big issue with the Continuing Resolution, but the bottom line is that what's missing in Washington, D.C. is what this great state has and that's the ability for people to get together and do what's best, work for community and work for families and move it forward.