September 24, 2017

On Beacon Hill: No way, Jose — a cloudy forecast for health care

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

'MAKE PURPLE' | "Enough!" shouted dancers at the State House Thursday after an artistic portrayal of government polarity. Sharply divided into "blue" and "red" factions, members of The Moving Company from Great Barrington glared and wrestled before dancing together in a bipartisan shade of purple.

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

Storm clouds were moving in, literally and figuratively, when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker walked out of Faneuil Hall and met the quartet of reporters waiting by his car last Wednesday morning.

After the governor posed for a photo with a group attending the Recovery Day event he just addressed while taking a few questions, his press aide told the reporters the governor had to get going and had time for just one last question.

Baker added as the wind picked up, “it’s also going to start raining on all of us.”

The literal storm clouds threatening to drench that cobblestone scrum were from Jose, the spitfire tropical storm moving up from the south. Behind that storm loomed the specter of another redrafted Obamacare repeal bill in Congress that could harm Massachusetts to the tune of billions of dollars — this one taking the name Graham-Cassidy — on its way to the Senate floor in Washington, D.C.

“Graham-Cassidy would be, as it’s currently conceived … a huge problem for the commonwealth of Mass.,” said Baker, the popular governor whose party has been promising to pass such a bill for years. “And it’s my hope that it doesn’t pass.”

About five miles away in Chelsea last week, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned of a “staggeringly irresponsible” bill that would turn Medicaid into a block-grant program and reduce federal funding to Massachusetts, according to the senator, by an estimated $5 billion over 10 years.

“We are looking at the perfect storm in terms of education budgets in the coming year,” Chelsea schools Superintendent Mary Bourque said, not in reference to the approaching tropical storm. Graham-Cassidy would result in a loss of $700,000 in Medicaid reimbursements that go into her school budget, she said.

(With U.S. Sen. John McCain’s Friday announcement that he would not be supporting the Graham-Cassidy bill, the forecast for Bay State health care — and Baker’s popularity — got a bit sunnier. If only for a while.)

In about 13 months, Baker and Warren will most likely be the highest-profile candidates on their respective party’s ticket. But last week, with the threat of block-granting Medicaid bearing down, they were on the same page.

The Republican governor has joined with Bay State Democrats in resisting GOP-sponsored healthcare bills targeting Obamacare, a position that U.S. Senate Democrats have made part of their resistance to the new GOP bill.

Baker’s friends in the GOP, such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, are using Massachusetts as leverage to try to drum up support for the bill.

“Four states under Obamacare get 40 percent of the money — New York, California, Massachusetts and Maryland,” Graham said. “If that bothers you, this is a chance to do something about it.”

The U.S. Senate, despite the McCain blockbuster, is still planning to vote on Graham-Cassidy this week, before the Sept. 30 deadline to pass a repeal bill with a simple majority. At the end of the week, depending on how the Senate votes, only one of the following will be cheering: the Republican Party or Baker, a GOP member.

While Baker still hasn’t said whether he is going to run for reelection next year, plenty of others have turned their sights to the 2018 election.

Activists are trying to compel action on a state sales tax cut, a new income surtax on millionaires and an increase in the minimum wage, issues that don’t lend themselves very well to a governor taking a firm position — and remaining the nation’s most popular state leader — heading into an election year.

Unlike his advocacy on federal health care reform that’s made some waves, Baker has tried to calm the waters back home. He hasn’t staked out a firm position on those three issues he could be sharing space with on next year’s ballot.

— Colin A. Young

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Health care in the crosshairs
  • Markey and Sanders on Graham-Cassidy, Healey on DeVos
  • Challenging Baker, Warren eyes Worcester-Amazon marriage
  • Watch: Polito on ‘Fight for $15’
  • Evangelidis named head of Massport board


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