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For 98 percent of people in Massachusetts, the message was familiar: President Obama announced his plan to curtail what he calls "jaw-dropping" increases in insurance premiums. It's part of a broader health care reform proposal he unveiled Monday.
Earlier this month, Gov. Deval Patrick, while addressing the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, ordered the state's health insurers to submit rate increases for review and possible rejection.
Along with fellow members of the National Governors Association, Patrick met with Mr. Obama in Washington on Monday. On Tuesday, speaking to WBUR, the governor echoed the president in again directing his ire toward health insurance rate hikes.
"This is, I think, a shared frustration that the president and I have — the same frustration that small business owners and families, working families have — with these annual double-digit increases in premiums when everything else is either flat or declining," Patrick said.
Though the state's own health care reform now means that approximately 98 percent of Massachusetts residents are covered, the Patrick administration has said national action is still needed to help people and businesses struggling to afford coverage.
Gov. Patrick said Mr. Obama's idea to create an oversight panel to monitor insurance rates follows existing Massachusetts law. He says such a proposal is needed to halt the "sort of circular conversation" in which insurers point to one another and blame competition for their premium costs.
"Enough's enough," Patrick said. "There's all kinds of reasons why no one ever moves, nothing ever happens, and meanwhile small businesses — large ones too, for that matter — working families, local governments, state governments, we are all victims of these double-digit annual increases. It's completely unsustainable. Something has got to give."
Twice on Tuesday, the governor referred to the rising premiums as a "crisis." Yet one of Patrick's 2010 gubernatorial challengers, Republican Charlie Baker, recently termed the rate review proposal as a "campaign-year stunt."
In response, the governor dismissed the notion while also welcoming other ideas to deal with the building fiscal issue.
"I can't spend all my time responding to the stunts that accuse us of 'stunts,' " Patrick said. "He says he has some ideas about how to get costs down, let's hear 'em. I haven't seen him lift a finger to help anybody deal with these costs."
Apart from the governors summit, Patrick also met with both of the state's senators in Washington on Monday. Patrick said he stressed to both Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry the importance of the pending health care legislation and the proposed jobs bill.
Though Sen. Brown has previously stated that he opposes Mr. Obama's health care reform, following the meeting with Patrick — which the governor called "a useful conversation" — Sen. Brown made news by siding with Democrats to advance the jobs bill beyond a potential GOP filibuster.
"The importance (is) in Sen. Brown's case of him bringing the independent voice and independent vote to the work down in the Congress and in the Senate, keeping in mind the interests and the needs of the people of Massachusetts," Patrick said. "If he does that, we'll be OK."
Patrick said that he hopes that Monday's employment measures will be followed up by further loosening of credit markets so that small businesses can have access to working capital. He said that is something that he hears "over and over again in Massachusetts."
This program aired on February 23, 2010.
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