GOP Sen. hopeful calls for Mass. health plan caps

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press Writer / December 28, 2009

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BOSTON—Republican state Sen. Scott Brown, a candidate for the late Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat, said states would be better off adopting their own plans to expand insurance coverage than relying on a national health care overhaul.

Brown, hoping to gain traction on presumed front-runner Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, also filed a bill Monday that he said would curb health care spending in Massachusetts by limiting what types of coverage the state requires in every health care plan.

If someone wants to purchase a plan without paying for prescription drug or chiropractic coverage they shouldn't have to pay a fine, Brown said. Under the 2006 law, everyone in Massachusetts must have mandatory minimum coverage or face tax penalties.

"A young man, someone like me for example, would not need in vitro fertilization," said Brown. "Insurance companies should be free to put together policies that are tailored for the needs of their consumers."

A spokesman for Coakley said Brown's bill would lift the requirement that insurance companies provide coverage for a range of critical medical services, from mammograms to screenings for cervical and prostate cancer.

"All of these things would no longer be mandated," said campaign spokesman Corey Welford, who said the change would do little to lower costs.

Brown filed the bill to highlight a key policy difference between the two candidates.

Coakley has said she would reluctantly vote for the health care bill that recently passed the Senate, despite an amendment limiting abortion access.

Brown opposes the both the House and Senate versions of the bill, and vowed to be "the 41st senator that could stop the Obama proposal that's being pushed right now through the Congress."

As a state lawmaker, Brown supported Massachusetts' landmark 2006 health care law, which has served as a blueprint for the federal bill. Key elements of the law, including the requirement that everyone be insured -- the so-called "individual mandate" -- are included in the House and Senate versions of the federal bill.

He said his first priority is looking out for the interests of Massachusetts.

"Our goal should be on improving what we have already done here in Massachusetts and not passing a national health care plan that adds to new costs and more government in our lives," he added.

He said other states would be better off trying to expand health care coverage on their own.

"There should be a way for the states to go and do what we have here," Brown added. "They should have the ability to see what their needs are and what help they need, if any, from the federal government and tailor a plan that's good for their individual states."

Coakley's campaign said Massachusetts will benefit under the bills under debate in Congress.

Under the proposals, the state will receive about $500 million for Medicaid and Medicare over three years and be able to pass some of the costs it is now paying for expanded health coverage onto the federal government, the campaign said.

The federal bill will also help more lower and moderate income people in Massachusetts pay their premiums, and will extend tax credits to small businesses, including nonprofit groups, that have less than 25 employees and which offer health insurance.

Joseph L. Kennedy, a Libertarian running as an independent, is also seeking the seat. Kennedy, no relation to the late senator, said he opposes the national health care proposal.

Kennedy died Aug. 25 of a brain tumor. Before his death, Kennedy said expanding health care coverage had been part of his life's work.

The special election is Jan. 19.