MA-Senate: An Unusual Referendum on Health Care Reform

The entire political world wants to talk about the Massachusetts Senate race and who am I to resist? I don't think that enough people ...
by | January 15, 2010

The entire political world wants to talk about the Massachusetts Senate race and who am I to resist?

I don't think that enough people have commented on what an atypical place Massachusetts is for a referendum on health care reform. Massachusetts, of course, has had a near-universal health care program including an individual mandate and a health exchange for several years now. It more or less already has the sort of health care system envisioned in the federal health care legislation.

On the national level, the individual mandate is despised by both the left and the right. In Massachusetts, though, the individual mandate has generally been popular and, in fact, surprisingly uncontroversial.

So, in some sense, it would be completely shocking if Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown to the Senate as a way to thwart national health care reform. Massachusetts isn't just a liberal, Democratic state. It's the state that knows these reform strategies best and, at least until now, seemed to like them.

You can make the case that Massachusetts is the best qualified state in the country to give an informed opinion on health care reform. You can also make the case that if Massachusetts doesn't support health care reform, no state in the country will

On the other hand, Massachusetts is probably the state that has the fewest people who would directly benefit from federal health care reform. Nearly everyone already has insurance and many of the people who don't wouldn't get it under the federal plan (i.e. illegal immigrants). Unlike literally every other state, there's (almost) no one saying to themselves, "I need to support a Democratic Senate so that I can have health insurance."

In this context, Brown's position on health care is interesting. He voted for the Massachusetts health care plan. He says he's still for it. But, he thinks that's all the more reason to oppose federal health care reform. He said on Fox News (via the Daily Caller): "Why would we subsidize and why would we pay more for something we already have. It makes no sense."

In some sense, that dynamic makes the Massachusetts Senate race a deeply flawed referendum on health care reform. At the very least, it adds an extra burden to Martha Coakley (the Democratic candidate) and President Obama as they try to hold this seat.

In the final days of the campaign, Coakley and Obama don't just have to make the case that their health care ideas are good. They need to persuade Massachusetts residents that if reform is good for them, they have an obligation to support it for everyone else.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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