News & Events

Senate foes wrangle on health care

Brown rips Senate bill supported by Coakley

By Matt Viser, Globe Staff  |  December 29, 2009

The two major-party candidates for US Senate assailed each other’s views on health care yesterday, with Republican Scott Brown blasting Democrat Martha Coakley for supporting national efforts to expand coverage, and Coakley’s campaign accusing Brown of seeking to cut benefits for women, seniors, and cancer patients in Massachusetts.

With Democrats in Congress now using their narrow majority to write a final health care compromise, Brown called a press conference to say he would relish the chance to block the bill, asserting the current proposals would raise costs for Massachusetts residents and businesses without providing any benefits.

“I could be the 41st senator that could stop the Obama proposal that’s being pushed right now through Congress,’’ Brown, a state senator from Wrentham, told reporters at state GOP headquarters in downtown Boston.

Brown said everyone should have some form of health care coverage, but that it should be done on a state-by-state basis. He said he supports the landmark health care bill that Massachusetts approved in 2006, and isn’t worried about what happens in other states.

“My primary responsibility is to ensure that the people of Massachusetts get the best value for their dollar,’’ he said. “I’m not concerned about subsidizing South Dakota or North Dakota or Idaho or other states.’’

To that end, he proposed state legislation yesterday to ease regulations on insurance companies, rules he said have driven up costs. He said companies should not be required to cover so many different medical services, in cluding in vitro fertilization and chiropractic care. State law also mandates that every health plan include coverage for mammograms, minimum maternity stays, hearing screenings for newborns, and alcoholism rehabilitation.

“I’m not opposed to having these available to people, but we should give the providers the ability to look at their consumer and say, ‘What do you need covered?’ ’’ Brown said.

He did not specify exactly how his proposal would decrease costs; he also did not say whether insurers should have to provide some basic level of coverage.

Coakley’s campaign attacked the bill, saying it would allow insurance companies to get out of covering things such as mammograms, bone marrow transplants for breast cancer patients, and hospice care for seniors.

“Scott Brown’s apparent solution to controlling health care costs is to cut coverage for consumers and raise profits for insurers,’’ Coakley’s campaign manager, Kevin Conroy, said in a statement. “Martha Coakley understands that the solution to health care is expanding coverage, increasing transparency, and reducing health care costs for all.’’

A state report last year based on a study of 26 mandated benefits in 2004 and 2005 found that if there were no such requirements on insurers, premiums would decrease by 3 to 4 percent.

Health care is one of many issues that separate Brown and Coakley, who face off in a Jan. 19 special election. A third candidate in the race, independent Joseph L. Kennedy, like Brown, opposes the national health care plan.

Tomorrow is the last day for residents to register to vote in the election.

The candidates have also differed sharply over the spending of state and federal tax dollars.

Brown has often criticized Coakley for supporting policies he contends will result in billions in additional taxes and spending. But Brown himself has been attacked by Kennedy and Coakley for his record supporting state budgets that have boosted spending in Massachusetts.

In a debate last week, Kennedy said Brown was not a true fiscal conservative because he voted in favor of budget increases, and voted to increase spending on health care as part of the 2006 law.

“I appreciate the fact that he’s saying, ‘Oh, I want to cut spending,’ now that he’s running for office,’’ Kennedy said. “But I don’t understand what happened between, I think it was 2003 and 2006, when he was voting for spending increases.’’

Coakley’s campaign has compiled a list of votes that Brown has cast in favor of state budgets that boosted spending by several billion dollars over several years.

Brown countered that he had never voted for a tax increase.

“I’m very proud that I voted to hold the line on spending and stop the runaway freight train up there in terms of increasing our state coffers when we don’t have the ability to pay for them,’’ Brown said yesterday when asked about his record.

Still, he said, his votes for state budgets in the past were appropriate.

“Of course I voted for budgets. We were in a different time; there were times when we had surpluses and there were certain needs that hadn’t been filled in some time,’’ he said. “I’ve always been an independent voter and thinker, and will do so down in Washington. If there’s a good idea and a Democrat is supporting it, I will vote for it, as I’ve done before.’’

Matt Viser can be reached at