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The Massachusetts Obamacare Boondoggle

February 07, 2014

By The Washington Times Editorial Board

Since we’re stuck with Obamacare for the foreseeable future, Congress ought to pay attention to fixing the most indefensible features of the health care disaster it imposed on the country.

When the Democratic Senate adopted the legislation four years ago, Majority Leader Harry Reid packed in as much pork as he could to get to the 60-vote threshold needed for passage.

Now he signals a willingness to pare his excess. If he doesn’t, he’s afraid he’ll have a new job next year. He’ll be the minority leader.

Mr. Reid suggested last week that he’s open to Democratic proposals to fix Obamacare. “If there are things we can do to improve the bill, we should do it,” he told CNN. “There’s a group of senators, ‘2014ers’ we call them, who are coming up with different proposals. I’m meeting with them this week and individually.”

The 2014ers are the Democratic senators up for re-election this year in angry red states. At the top of the endangered list are Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas and Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina.

These senators are having a tough time explaining to their constituents how they put the health-care train on the track and sent it speeding to the wreck.

A great bipartisan compromise would be the undoing of the Bay State Boondoggle. To keep John Kerry, then the senior senator from Massachusetts, on board the Obamacare train, the White House, Harry Reid and Mr. Kerry arranged to divert money from hospitals across the country to hospitals in Massachusetts.

Twenty-three Democratic senators joined Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Republican who recognized the scheme as a scam, to push an amendment last year that would have prevented the scam, but Mr. Reid insisted on no changes in President Obama’s “signature accomplishment.”

Under the scheme, a provision of Obamacare requires that staff members of every hospital in Massachusetts be paid at least as much as the members of the staff of the state’s rural hospitals, with the federal government paying for the extra cost of compliance.

As it conveniently happens, the only “rural hospital” in Massachusetts serves the rich and famous on the fashionable island of Nantucket, summer enclave of the rich and beautiful people, mostly Democrats.

The hospitals in bucolic Western Massachusetts must pay the same wages as the well-appointed medical “cottage” that caters to Nantucket’s 1 percenters, including Mr. Kerry. It’s a $257 million Medicare reimbursement bonus for Massachusetts.

It’s beyond outrageous. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, this scam will cost Arkansas hospitals $5.2 million, Louisiana will lose $6.7 million and North Carolina $12.6 million. The 2014ers are desperate to correct this imbalance before the autumn campaigns.

The temptation for Republicans will be to allow the Obamacare wreckage to pile up as a testament to the folly of entrusting something as important as health care to people who can’t sell stamps without losing $5 billion annually, or feed people on trains without losing $1 billion every year. (How difficult can frying a hamburger and a few chips be?)

But erasing the Bay State Boondoggle is good policy. Besides, if Republicans block relief, the Democrats will make the credible charge that Republicans are obstructionists. Since erasing the Bay State Boondoggle is good policy, that makes it good politics.