SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 31, 2013

Obama speech, Sox World Series bid grip Boston

BY STEVE LeBLANC
Associated Press

---- — BOSTON — Fans of Massachusetts’ two favorite pastimes — politics and sports — were having a field day in Boston yesterday as President Barack Obama visited Faneuil Hall to discuss his health care law just hours before the first pitch in the sixth game of the World Series at Fenway Park.

Both events had security on alert as Red Sox fans poured into the city.

Obama pointed to early problems with the Massachusetts law as he tried to lower expectations for the enrollment in the federal system, which has been plagued by computer troubles.

But Obama, a longtime Chicago White Sox fan, also conceded that “a presidential visit is not the biggest thing going on today.”

Obama used the speech to draw parallels between the beleaguered rollout of the federal website and the first months of the Massachusetts law, which served as a blueprint for his 2010 law.

He said technical troubles and other challenges facing the state as it tried to launch its 2006 law didn’t stop Massachusetts from moving forward. He said the federal government will also fix its problems and move ahead.

“We are just going to keep on working at it,” he said. “We’re going to ride it out, just like you did here in Massachusetts.”

There are significant differences between the federal and state laws. One of the biggest was the political climate in which both were passed.

Unlike the deep partisan divide that marked passage of the federal law, Massachusetts’ law had sweeping bipartisan support. It was signed at Faneuil Hall by former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, flanked at the time by the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Gov. Deval Patrick, a strong supporter of Obama, also emphasized what he portrayed as the rocky start of the state law which his administration oversaw after he took office in 2007.

“The website was a constant work in process over the first few years,” Patrick said before introducing the president.

While many local supporters of the law cheered Obama, not everyone is pleased with the Massachusetts law.

In the years since it was approved, thousands of taxpayers have opted not to get insurance and pay the penalty instead. The state has so far collected over $115 million in penalties.

Not everyone in the state is thrilled with aspects of the federal law, either.

Jon Hurst, president of the Massachusetts Retailers Association, said small businesses in the state are disappointed that the Obama administration hasn’t granted the state a waiver from a new ratings system that he said will force business owners to pay significantly more to insure workers.

“The result will likely be lost jobs, and less healthy people working on our main streets across Massachusetts,” he said.