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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

To your health

Good news out of the Statehouse in the form of a compromise that will allow expansion of health care coverage to thousands of Massachusetts residents. But there's a fly lurking in the ointment, as usual.

The compromise hammered out by Senate President Robert Travaglini and House Speaker Sal DiMasi would finally end an intolerable situation involving deadbeat companies -- firms with 10 or more employees who don't provide coverage for the workers. Those folks are then forced to find health care either through Medicaid or the free care pool -- in effect providing a massive public subsidy to the companies and imposing a burden on taxpayers, hospitals and everyone who pay higher health insurance premiums.

The compromise reportedly includes a $295 per head assessment on companies of 10 or more who don't provide coverage. It also reportedly calls for an mandate that everyone to purchase insurance -- a Romney requirement -- and calls for private insurers to provide stripped-down health plans that are more affordable.

The fly buzzing around (in Utah, when last we looked) is our absentee governor, you know the one who has made health care legislation a priority for his presidential campaign. The one who pulled the PR stunt of going to Trav and Sal at home on a Sunday and asking them to work harder.

When last we looked, Governor Flip-Flop was saying bad things about an employer assessment, backed by a segment of the business community -- the Massachusetts High Tech Council -- that had traditionally thought nothing of taking state aid while rebelling at the thought of paying its fair share.

Mittsy desperately needs something to make him stand out in a field that includes such GOP stellars as Chuck Hagel and Sam Brownback. The ability to claim a major victory in health care -- something national Republicans currently place as a lower priority than aid to the Gulf Coast -- would be a plus.

But it's that pesky business "tax" -- a compromise much closer to the Senate proposal than the House's call for a stiff payroll tax -- that will cause Mittsy to waffle. How can a good GOP candidate ever deign to make business pay its fair share, by, shudder, raising taxes?

The good news is when legislators finish up the bill and report it out, it is likely to pass with veto-proof majorities. That would actually also be a win for the Mittser, in a true Bushian manner -- take a stand on "principle" (read that showboating), then claim credit for the law when it goes into effect. Flip. Flop.

But it would also be a win for others too: the folks who can't afford to care for themselves properly and the responsible businesses (the vast majority) that believe they need to do their fair share.


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