WASHINGTON – Senator Scott Brown this morning filed legislation that would allow states to opt out of certain portions of President Obama’s health care plan earlier than expected.
Brown, a Massachusetts Republican who rode into office on a wave of anger over the federal health care legislation, filed the bill with Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon.
The filing of the legislation is significant because it illustrates that Brown is trying to work with Democrats to make targeted changes to the health care law while top Republicans have largely focused only on repealing the entire law, not tinkering with it.
“We’re just going through it, trying to make it better. Trying to fix the problems,” Brown said in a brief interview earlier this week. When a reporter pointed out that many of his GOP colleagues wanted to scrap the whole thing, he said, “You should probably talk to them on that. Nice try.”
The bill Brown and Wyden filed this morning addresses a provision that allows states to obtain waivers that would exempt them from some of the requirements of the law, including the individual mandate and health care exchanges. In order to do so, states would have to prove that their state’s insurance plan is at least as competitive and affordable, and covers as many residents as the federal plan would.
Under the current law, states would be able to apply for those waivers starting in 2017, but the new measure would move that up to 2014, when most of the other aspects of the federal bill are implemented.
Closing that gap, proponents say, would allow states to begin to apply for waivers before implementing certain portions of the federal law.
“These…changes are good for Massachusetts,” Brown said this morning in a speech on the Senate floor. “They are good for other states who are trying to innovate and advance in the areas of health care reform, cost containment, and coverage.”
“We should be encouraging state innovation, not hampering it,” Brown said, adding that the bill is supported by the Massachusetts Hospital Association.
But Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, opposes the effort -- and says the Bay State won't need any waivers.
“The new health reform law includes billions of dollars in federal assistance for Massachusetts and strong protections for our health care system," Kerry said in a statement. "It is in our best interest to reconcile the new law with existing state requirements and implement it on time. I have every confidence that Governor [Deval] Patrick and the state legislature will do this with success and without the need for a waiver.”
A Patrick administration spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brown's approach to make targeted changes to the health care law contrasts with the rhetoric of other Republicans, who are more focused on repealing the entire thing.
The incoming House Speaker, John Boehner, said last week that one of his first goals would be to "begin to repeal this monstrosity and replace it with common sense reforms."
“I think that what the American people were saying is, ‘We want it scrapped, we want a do-over,’” Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican and possible presidential candidate, said in a brief interview this week. “That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Brown aides insist that he remains adamantly opposed to the health care law and still wants to repeal it. But in the meantime, he’s signing onto several pieces of legislation to make changes to the law.
"Like everyone else, he is waiting to see what the leadership in the Senate is going to propose,” said his spokeswoman, Gail Gitcho. “Right now he is doing what he can."
Brown on Monday also signed on as a cosponsor to legislation filed by Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, that would change a tax provision that small businesses have found burdensome because it requires too much paperwork.
Eight others have co-sponsored the bill, but Brown is the only Republican.
“He’s been a pleasure to work with,” Wyden said of Brown in an interview. “You see that our two states having been on the forefront of state innovation and flexibility. This provides another tool for cost containment and choice. It gives them more freedom to play to their own strengths.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.