Massachusetts and health care: what it means for us

| Staff Columnist

In a stunning reversal of fortune, the Democratic supermajority in the United States Senate has now been shattered with the election of Republican Scott Brown to succeed the late Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Brown received 52 percent to his Democratic challenger Martha Coakley’s 47 percent, an astonishing demonstration of widespread apathy and even anger at President Obama’s health care reform proposal.

For the first time in more than 36 years, Massachusetts elected a Republican to represent it in the Senate, making Brown the sole Republican in the 12-person delegation. In addition to the implications this vote has on the state of Massachusetts, the national implications are even more significant: Republicans now possess a filibuster-proof 41 members, enough to block cloture from their Democratic colleagues.

Brown’s five-point margin of victory has already inspired allegations from the White House that Coakley ran a lackluster race, and one that took victory for granted. Ironically, even reliably Democratic states now oppose the Obama administration’s health care overhaul. According to Public Policy Polling, a well-known Democratic polling firm, 48 percent of voters in Massachusetts now oppose the Democrats’ health care plan.

Most significantly, the same Independents whom the President persuaded in the 2008 election are now deserting his agenda in droves. This follows an important pattern seen in New Jersey’s and Virginia’s gubernatorial elections. The President personally campaigned for the Democratic candidates in these states, but Independents voted Republican. The same forces, those of change and hope, which propelled President Obama to the White House, have accomplished the same feat for Brown’s election in the Bay State.

The question now becomes whether health care reform will become a reality, and it is my belief that in its current form, it will not. I believe that something needs to be done, for it is a complete and utter disgrace for this country to have more than 40 million uninsured Americans. Insurance companies should no longer have the right to arbitrarily deny medicine prescribed by a physician, and especially in regards to those individuals with pre-existing conditions. However, Democrats would be wise to attempt a bipartisan effort this time around. The American people have demonstrated, most notably in Massachusetts, their rejection of the current health care bill.

The Democrats have warned that Scott Brown will not be immediately seated in the Senate, so as to deny Republicans the necessary 41st vote to block this health bill from advancing in the Senate. This threat strikes me as the utter heart of hypocrisy. The people of Massachusetts have spoken, and even some national Democratic leaders have conceded that health care is dead in its current form. As New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, a fierce advocate of the public option, said “I think you can make a pretty good argument that health care might be dead.”

Furthermore, the President will need to start a bipartisan effort and stop simply paying lip service to the notion of collaboration with Republicans in order to achieve truly meaningful health care reform for the American people. I can say with certainty that if the people of Massachusetts wish for change a mere year after Obama was sworn in, the Democrats appear to be in trouble with other Congressional races in the November elections. It is not inconceivable that Republicans can pick up Senate seats in Connecticut, Nebraska, Nevada, Louisiana and North Dakota, to name but a few races.

In the end, health care needs to be reformed, and one way or the other it will happen. If both sides, Democratic and Republican, can put aside their differences and compromise, then surely reform will happen and the United States will be a better country for it. For a country which in 2006 spent $6,714 per person (comprising 15.3 percent of GDP on health care), it is morally unjustifiable that reform should not happen.

Isaac is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at iamon@artsci.wustl.edu.