Obamacare’s implementation has dealt Massachusetts’ healthcare system an enormous blow. The “Washington knows best” mentality embedded in the federal law has disrupted hundreds of thousands of local residents who were previously being served by our own carefully crafted, state-based law. The solution to the crisis is simple: Massachusetts needs a waiver from Obamacare’s requirements, and we need it now.
Just the other day, I was speaking to a caseworker who helps people sign up for health insurance and receive care. She told me gut-wrenching stories of two women who stopped seeing their doctors because they lost their previous health insurance coverage as a result of the Obamacare changes. One woman was in the middle of chemo treatments. The other was pregnant.
This is unacceptable in America. It’s unconscionable in Massachusetts, where 98 percent of the commonwealth’s residents had health insurance before Obamacare. Since the federal law has gone into effect, 300,000 people — the equivalent of half the population of Boston — have been forced off their preferred plans. A full 170,000 people are now living with “temporary” coverage. Most disturbing are the approximately 75,000 people stuck in the “twilight zone,” who don’t know for sure whether they even have coverage.
To add insult to injury, Massachusetts once had a fully functioning enrollment website and electronic carrier payment system. We now have a healthcare website rated the worst in the nation, forcing the state to switch to paper applications.
Conventional wisdom was that Massachusetts would have a seamless transition to the federal law, but reality has shown otherwise. Obamacare was a federal takeover of our state system, and the “one-size-fits-all” approach mandated by federal law has required more than 100 changes to our state program. The failed website system alone has cost $180 million.
People are already being hurt by these changes, but things will only get worse if no one acts. Later this year, up to 60 percent of individuals on small business insurance plans will see their premiums skyrocket. In four years, a new tax on “Cadillac” plans will levy a backbreaking 40 percent tax on nearly all teacher, police and firefighter insurance plans. The medical device tax will also suck $411 million out of our local economy every year, hurting job creation here on the North Shore.
Top Democrat and former chairman of the Healthcare Committee John McDonough recently drew a lot of attention when he blogged, “I can’t name a single Massachusetts official who is leveling with the public on this national embarrassment.” He added, there is “no explanation, no plan and no hope” for the current situation in Massachusetts. McDonough is correct. Our elected officials need to admit we have a serious problem on our hands. So far, we’ve only heard silence from those who are elected to help us provide for the most vulnerable.
Clearly, Massachusetts needs a waiver from Obamacare so we can get back to doing what we were already doing well. This isn’t a radical request. More than 1,200 waivers have already been granted, but in typical Washington fashion, they’ve gone to the politically powerful and their friends. In Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district, for example, restaurants and nightclubs were given waivers from some of Obamacare’s mandates. Why is it that Nancy Pelosi’s nightclubs get special treatment, but an entire state that had near universal coverage is being punished?
If the Obama administration will not grant a waiver, then legislation should be filed immediately to exempt Massachusetts from the most onerous provisions of the law. Better yet, any state that had near universal coverage should also be exempted from the law.
In Washington, it doesn’t seem that either Republicans or Democrats are serious about fixing the harmful consequences of Obamacare. One side is hung up on its repeal, and the other is defending it at all hazards.
People just want their leaders to listen to and work for them, like we did here in Massachusetts. As a state senator, I supported and helped pass our state’s trailblazing healthcare law in 2006, because I believed that healthcare needed be accessible to every resident of our state.
Washington needs to start listening again to those on the front lines — the caseworkers, the doctors, the nurses and, most importantly, the people — who need healthcare to work for them. As a state, we did it once, and with the right leadership in Washington we can do it again.
Richard Tisei is the former minority leader of Massachusetts State Senate and is a candidate for Congress in Massachusetts 6th Congressional District.