Our Opinion: Baker speaks truth to power in D.C.

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With this summer's partisan, backroom dealings to repeal the Affordable Care Act come to naught, Congress this week returned to session and took its first small steps toward a more sensible approach to the nation's health care system with a bipartisan hearing — one that prominently featuring Republican Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.

Mr. Baker joined four other governors, including Democrats, to testify Thursday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Set against the backdrop of President Trump's threats to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA), by among other measures squeezing federal funding that insurance companies use to lower out-of-pocket expenses for consumers, Mr. Baker gave voice to the alarm shared among his fellow governors at an unraveling of a system that affects their constituents directly.

The governor, who has argued all year that the effort of congressional Republicans to repeal and replace the ACA would cost his state hundreds of millions of dollars and deprive thousands of residents of health care, asserted Thursday that the summer's debate succeeded in destabilizing the health insurance market in ways that could cause consumer rates to rise. During the course of the hearings, the governor opposed cutting federal cost sharing payments as detrimental to the states, defended the ACA's individual insurance mandate as the only way to prevent unfairly tagging those with insurance with the costs of those without insurance who are injured or become sick, and urged that younger people be "nudged" into getting health insurance through mandates or penalties.

The tenor of the hearings — respectful, professional, informative, and insightful — comes as a pleasant departure from this summer's disgraceful partisan display. Had repeal efforts succeeded, millions of Americans would have been left without health insurance. In the meantime, no one, including former President Obama himself, has argued that the Obamacare is without flaws. However, President Trump's threat to "let Obamacare fail" without any sensible replacement would be ruinous — socially, politically, and financially.

Republican Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, the HELP Committee chairman, hopes to present a bipartisan plan to stabilize the individual health insurance market to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer within the next week or so. Mr. Ryan has expressed no interest in that approach. However, the pragmatic recommendations of Governor Baker, and his colleagues are hardly radical are based on solid precepts that can be readily defended.

Senator Alexander referred to the hearings as "a small step that will lead to bigger steps." We don't yet know what those bigger steps will be. At the very least we hope, as Baker does, they involve fixing what's flawed in the Affordable Care Act rather than recklessly repealing it. With this week's hearings, it was good to see partisanship return to the room.


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