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Massachusetts spoke, and the problem is still there

January 25, 2010 - Jim Anderson
Did Massachusetts voters send a message that government should just get out of health care?


Massachusetts has a near-universal health coverage plan, enacted in 2006. Despite major problems (mainly a failure to control costs), it continues to enjoy majority support.

A Washington Post poll of 880 Massachusetts residents who said they voted in the Jan. 19 special election offers some insights.

Massachusetts has a mandate that requires all individuals to buy health care coverage. The state provides subsidies to help people who can't afford it. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed in the Washington Post poll support the Massachusetts law.

At the same time, just 43 percent of Massachusetts voters support the health care proposals from President Obama and Democrats in Congress.

Among voters who supported the winning candidate — Republican Scott Brown — a whopping 80 percent opposed the so-called Obamacare plan.

Much has been made of the fact that Brown (and the vast majority of his supporters) oppose Obamacare.

Less has been made of the fact that Brown voted for the Massachusetts plan as a state senator and continues to support it. Less has also been made of the in-state support for the Massachusetts law.

Good for Massachusetts, but bad for the nation?

Brown has claimed there’s no inconsistency in that position. It should, he says, be up to states to decide whether to expand health care with help from the federal government.

Trouble is, there’s little evidence that individual states can expand coverage and still control costs. That difficult goal was the promise of Obamacare — whether realistic or not.

Obamacare failed, in part, because no one could be sure of what it actually was. We did, however, see the sellouts to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and back-room deals with key lawmakers. Hard to get warm and fuzzy about that.

What now? If there are no reforms, in all likelihood costs will continue to climb and more of us will become uninsured.

Turn to the Republicans to enact modest reforms? Fine, but how much will that achieve to control costs and cover more people? If the GOP has the answer, it escaped them during the Bush years.

Medicare-for-all, which about half the nation supports, would cover everyone and possibly save hundreds of billions of dollars annually in administrative costs. However, Obama will never lead that charge. (In a recent interview, he went so far as to deny “campaigning” even for a public option that would co-exist with private insurance — a proposal that was part of his published platform.)

We’ll see, then, how far Democrats and Republicans will go in crafting a compromise reform bill.

Obama has taken a lot of flak for focusing too much on health care and not enough on jobs. And he deserves some of that.

But let’s also remember that health care is a vicious cycle of rising costs and rising numbers of uninsured that strikes at the economic core of middle class America. Doing nothing will likely only make it worse.


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