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Jan. 19 2010 - 8:53 pm | 1,267 views | 5 recommendations | 18 comments

Massachusetts voters’ dirty little secret

MCACC-LogoNow that Scott Brown has pulled off one of the greatest political upsets of our time, much focus is being placed on what the vote really represents.

Most now assume that the election has become a referendum on the first year of Obama, particularly health care reform. In a sense, that is exactly what it is – but not in the way most analysts are portraying the race.

A couple of years ago, Massachusetts passed the closest thing this country has to a universal health care plan. Coverage is mandatory, government subsidies are available to help those who cannot afford coverage, and the program covers about 95% of the state’s residents.

Sound familiar?

On the ‘downside’ of the Massachusetts health care program, residents are experiencing higher costs and much longer waits to get in to see a doctor now that the doors to the world of medicine have been opened to most everyone. The state is also finding it difficult to deliver everything that was originally promised and is having to either cut back on the initial plan or raise prices for certain services.

Again, familiar territory.

While this may lead you to the conclusion that Massachusetts foks are unhappy with their universal healthcare, and do not want to see the mistakes repeated throughout the nation, this actually does not appear to be the case.

The Suffolk Poll, published on January 15th, asked the following question -

Do you support the Massachusetts near universal healthcare law?

54% said they do support the program while only 36% said they do not.

This is the same poll that put GOP candidate Scott Brown ahead of Democrat Martha Coakley by 4 points. It is also the same poll that reveals that Massachusetts residents do not support a national universal healthcare law by a healthy 51% – 36% margin.

So, the people of Massachusetts want near universal health care for themselves, but not for the rest of us.

This not only seems pretty selfish, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. At least not until you check out the rest of the poll.

It turns out that it’s not that Massachusetts taxpayers don’t want us to have what they have – they just don’t want to pay for the rest of us to have it when they are already paying for their own.

While 54% of Red Sox Nation may like their health care, 62% don’t believe their state government can afford to pay for it. And when asked if the U.S. government can afford a similar deal for the entire nation, 61% say no way.

Massachusetts voters are just doing what the rest of us do in this country– they are voting their pocketbook, not policy. They’ve already got near universal health care and see no reason to even consider paying anything extra so that the remainder of the country can do the same – no matter how much they might like it.

While it will be impossible to convince much of anyone that the Brown victory is not a referendum on the first year of the Obama Administration – and to be fair, there is no doubt an element of this – a Brown victory is not a repudiation of Obamacare , it is merely a brutal reminder that Massachusetts already has Obamacare and doesn’t want to pay the tab for the rest of us to have the same.


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  1. collapse expand

    Rick, I knew most people in Mass. were happy with their healthcare, so I was surprised when you first tipped us off weeks ago to the possibility of a Brown upset there, but I think you have cut through the “noise” and found the real reason- wonderful analysis. Does this put additional pressure on the US House to adopt the Senate version of the bill and get it done?

    • collapse expand

      Absolutely. But we are now in waters that are truly uncharted. This has never happened. Nobody can predict what is going to happen next for healthcare, but its going to be interesting. The question will be simple- do Congressional Democrats get beat in November if they pass healthcare in the form of just adopting the Senate bill – or do they get beat if they don’t pass any kind of healthcare legislation. While the question is simple, the answer is anyone’s guess.
      It’s a truly remarkable situation.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Thank you for this column tonight!

    What a tragic chance special election site!

    Will history repeat itself when corrupt influences prevailed over Edwin Quinby, elaborate mass transit systems were ripped out, and the concomitant inefficiency and hardships helped usher in the 1937 economic depths?

    http://culturechange.org/issue10/taken-for-a-ride.htm

    Will the insurance companies themselves lose?

    The laid off workers will no longer pay in.

    All the companies will have left for their business plan will be the health risk exclusions, the “shell game” (Dr. Everett Koop’s words.)

    You know, I’d be content with simply the repeal of the anti-trust immunity.

    Better: the Democrats can stop being hung up over one vote, live with what’s still a historically spectacular majority, and pass a bill that really rationalizes our system, including perhaps creating for the first time legitimate competition.

    http://sites.google.com/site/evernewecon

  3. collapse expand

    So glad to see this situation explored. I haven’t seen or heard anyone else bring it up except as something unimportant. A good example of “I’ve got mine, everyone else can go to hell.”

  4. collapse expand

    i’ve been following the reports posted on TPM

    if the dems allow HCR to fail, (i’ll hear DeMint start on his waterloo crapola again – ugh) then i will try to my damnest to use the advice written here.

    (i wanna see what the GOP does with the bank tax Obama wants. or Rep Welch’s bill, HR 4426, which has all dem co-sponsors. i know the banking lobby hired Carter G. Phillips — we’ll see how well this flies with the tea partiers)

  5. collapse expand

    Will history repeat itself? When corrupt influences prevailed over Edwin Quinby, elaborate mass transit systems were ripped out, and the concomitant inefficiency and hardships helped usher in the 1937 economic depths?

    http://culturechange.org/issue10/taken-for-a-ride.htm

    Will the insurance companies themselves lose?
    The laid off workers will no longer pay in.

    All the companies will have left for their business plan will be the health risk exclusions, the “shell game” (Dr. Everett Koop’s words.)

    You know, I’d be content with simply the repeal of the anti-trust immunity.

    Better: the Democrats can stop being hung up over one vote, live with what’s still a historically spectacular majority, and pass a bill that really rationalizes our system, including perhaps creating for the first time legitimate competition.

    http://sites.google.com/site/evernewecon

  6. collapse expand

    Rick – I think you’re right, but I also think that at a very basic, feral level, this was about the two candidates. Coakley was awful enough to turn off enough people that the rather more palatable Brown was able to win. All policy stuff aside, I think this was at the heart of the election.

    • collapse expand

      I hope you’re right. I’m not certain that this is the case as Coakley was not really that unpalatable. She certainly made mistakes – some serious ones, but it is just so hard to believe that a state like Mass. would reject the more progressive candidate unless there was something more at work. I suspect that, at the core, people are ticked off about not having a job or having mortgage problems or just plain cranky with life as we currently find it. I have this feeling that people in Mass. woke up this morning with a hangover wondering if they really did what they think they did.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  7. collapse expand

    The poll numbers you cite are not very satisfactory and the Mass system is close to what the Senate has in mind…so will the country be better off with long lines, rising costs and a nation anxious that we can not afford the cost?

    This is Obama’s loss for mishandling not only the health care debate but not reading the populist anger at Wall Street and not investigating the misdeeds of the last administration. While Obama has had numerous victories in legislation none seem to be a touchstone for the public none offer any relief to our anxiety.

    The lesson for the Democrats:

    This is not the time for reasoned compromise.

    • collapse expand

      Not quite sure what you mean by the polls I cite not being ’satisfactory’. They are what they are, so not sure what the point is you are making.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        The point is simple compared to countries that have universal health care where a solid majority support their programs only a bare majority would give the program a thumbs up in Mass. And if the state is convinced they can not afford the plan that pretty much plays into the republican playbook regardless of CBO’s numbers.

        Brown smartly did not say he would rid health care in the State but that a federal program was the wrong idea…it should be up to each state. It is a State’s right issue.

        The polls are what they are and perhaps in my usual clumsy manner I was just pointing out that the numbers are not supportive of a national program.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Right on, I wonder how much of that voting is retaliation as a state from the imposing federal policies. The polling reveals some of that.

          It is the rights of the state to create their own health care system. The best form of public care competition is competition between states. There is no competition at the federal level. Only bribery and blackmail. My state is always bribed by withholding money until we agree to a federal policy.

          Rick, you state this view as selfish, but why should one state have to pay more than another for health care? One of the biggest problems with federal programs is that each state is different. Many states are bound to pay more than they receive per person. With the size of health care, it could cause a major influx/outflow of money between states. Some states are bound to be big losers in the deal. That does not seem fair or constitutional.

          A key issue is each state has very different taxes and laws. Because my neighbor state has tax laws that do not promote big tax payers, could mean I have to pay more universal care taxes to offset my neighbor state. I have no representation of what my neighbor state laws are but it would affect me. Same case for someone living in Iowa vs New York. A person in New York could be paid twice as much as a person in Iowa but have similar living standards, yet, the New Yorker is paying twice as much tax into a federal pool.

          Your state doesn’t have any type of universal health plan? Get a group together and promote it. Try to get it passed in your state. The people of your state does not want it, move to Massachusetts. Now that’s choice.

          It’s not that the citizens of Massachusetts don’t want “the rest of us” to have universal care, it’s up to you to try to get your state to pass it or move to another state. The more the federal government runs things, the less choice for everyone.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
  8. collapse expand

    Rick,
    When a polling organization asks, “Do you support the Massachusetts near universal healthcare law?”, there is an assumption that the respondents actually know the details of the law they claim to be supporting or not.

    My experience here in Massachusetts is that most people(everyone I know) can’t explain the main details of the plan other than if your employer doesn’t offer health care you have to buy into a plan or a penalty is assessed on your state income tax. Since the law doesn’t negatively affect most people they “support” it.

    I found the most interesting question/response of the poll to be:
    Q28. Regardless of who you personally support for U.S. Senate, who do you
    think will be our next U.S. Senator?
    Scott Brown 26%
    Martha Coakley 64%

    So many Brown voters went to the polls as a protest against Coakley and the idea of “Kennedy’s seat” presumably belonging to Coakley?

    • collapse expand

      Noreaster- You make a good point.
      Would you say that most people up there realize that the health plan covers just about everyone where health plans in the remainder of the country do not?
      Very interesting point about the expectations expressed as to who would win. Bet your neighbors are feeling a giant case of buyer’s remorse.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Rick – I do think most folks in Massachusetts understand the issue of lack of coverage. However (and strictly my anecdotal experience) most people here, and I don’t think we are exceptional, are worried about their own jobs, watching insurance rates and copays going up, and have no faith that Washington will solve anything. If the Dems/Obama had handled HCR efficiently, transparently, and with a core of well-articulated policies most people would have gone along – and felt good about it.

        Buyer’s remorse? Not yet. This was supposed to be a low turnout election. Instead both sides got out the vote and it was one of the highest participation elections in recent history. If there’s remorse its from the Democratic primary vote where US Rep. Capuano, an urban street fighter, would not have taken a victory as a presumption.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    I am an attorney in Southern California, and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on health care policy and politics. To that end, I am active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Based in beautiful Santa Monica, California, I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to be a contributing editor to True/Slant. I've recently finished a book designed to make the health care debate understandable to the average reader, and expect it to be out in the next five months or earlier. In my 'spare time', I continue to write for television and, occasionally, for comic books.

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