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Can Gov. Charlie Baker Fix Health Care In America?

Pictured: Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker becomes emotional as he speaks after signing sweeping legislation aimed at reversing a deadly opioid addiction crisis, during a signing ceremony at the Statehouse, Monday, March 14, 2016, in Boston. (Elise Amendola/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Pictured: Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker becomes emotional as he speaks after signing sweeping legislation aimed at reversing a deadly opioid addiction crisis, during a signing ceremony at the Statehouse, Monday, March 14, 2016, in Boston. (Elise Amendola/AP)

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It is time to move past the health care reform blame game. In doing so, Massachusetts and its governor may have much to teach Washington about getting things done.

The president and the House suffered a stunning political loss in failing to replace the Affordable Care Act. Their defeat, however, should be a major relief for most Americans, as the bill would have deeply harmed the most vulnerable Americans, while offering significant tax breaks for the wealthy. By the time Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the president finished capitulating to the demands of the Republican Freedom Caucus, the bill would have eliminated critical areas of coverage put in place by the ACA such as emergency room visits, maternity care, mental health and preventative care services, and resulted in an estimated 24 million people losing health insurance.

Republicans have long hyped the need for a replacement bill by sowing the fear that Obamacare is imploding. Yet they hypocritically ignore their own complicity in creating the conditions for failure. Now that their bill has collapsed, the new mantra is to practice saying “I told you so,” in the event their self-fulfilling prophecy comes to fruition.

There is nearly universal agreement that the Affordable Care Act needs fixes to ensure that fair health care coverage is available to all Americans and can provide desperately needed stability to the health care industry.

Notwithstanding the loud voices of those claiming they were elected to repeal and replace Obamacare, there was no voter mandate to eliminate health insurance for millions or kick an underfunded program to the states under the guise of choice. If anything, the painfully weak start to Trump’s presidency, the growing evidence that Russia interfered in the election and the fact that Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump should motivate Congress to cease its partisan intransigence and behave like adults who can compromise and cooperate with one another.

There is nearly universal agreement that the Affordable Care Act needs fixes to ensure that fair health care coverage is available to all Americans and can provide desperately needed stability to the health care industry. The experience of the past seven years, however, makes clear that an intervention is needed to accomplish this.

That intervention should come in the form of a bipartisan commission headed by a trusted leader with deep health insurance expertise who understands how government works. And it just may be that someone like Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker would be well-situated for that job.

As the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Baker was credited with saving the health plan from insolvency. As a former cabinet secretary under two Massachusetts governors, he has a deep understanding of how government functions. As a Republican governor in a famously blue state, he knows how to develop coalitions. And he happens to be governing the state considered the parent of the Affordable Care Act, since the federal legislation was modeled after Gov. Mitt Romney’s reform of health care in Massachusetts.

That intervention should come in the form of a bipartisan commission headed by a trusted leader with deep health insurance expertise who understands how government works. And it just may be that someone like Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker would be well-situated for that job.

Moreover, the voter base of Massachusetts serves as an instructive role model, signaling where the country itself may soon be heading. More than half of the state's registered voters do not affiliate with a major political party, a status defined as “unenrolled." For nearly a decade, more Massachusetts voters have identified as unenrolled than as Democrat and Republican combined.

Increasingly, Americans are similarly identifying themselves as “independent” rather than choosing to be labeled as a Democrat or Republican. Elected officials who continue to behave according to party-first ideology may soon find themselves members of a diminishing group with concomitantly limited clout.

Every person in the country has a stake in the success of the Affordable Care Act. The death of the president’s efforts to repeal the law means that Democrats and Republicans alike own the future of health care — both its failures and its successes.

If Washington truly wants to get things done, it needs to develop bipartisan remedies that will ensure Obamacare can fulfill its initial promise. It may be that Baker has the particular skills that can help make this happen.

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Lauren Stiller Rikleen Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Lauren Stiller Rikleen is president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

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