- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that Massachusetts should seek a waiver from President Obama’s health care law, adding that he’s had to personally help people get insurance after they were stymied by the state’s troubled website.

The former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO said Massachusetts already has a successful health care law - which helped provide a blueprint for Obama’s 2010 law - but ran into trouble when it tried to knit together the state and federal mandates.

Baker made the comments Tuesday at a round-table discussion at Suffolk University Law School.

Baker also said he supports putting the state’s casino law before voters in November, opposes legalizing marijuana, and thinks colleges should consider offering three-year degrees instead of the usual four-year programs.

Baker said he also backed the decision of federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty against 20-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing.

But Baker saved some of his toughest criticism for the rollout of a glitchy new health care website that has forced the Massachusetts Health Connector to rely on workarounds to ensure residents can access coverage.

“This thing is a much bigger problem than people realize,” Baker said.

Baker said some of those frustrated with trying to get insurance through the website have called his campaign looking for help, in part because of Baker’s history as head of Harvard Pilgrim.

“I’ve personally handled a bunch of cases for people. What I’ve ended up doing most of the time is finding them coverage through some more direct connection,” Baker said. “For most of these folks the way to getting covered is not through the connector. They simply can’t get confirmation on much of anything.”

Administration officials have conceded problems with the website, and have brought in outside consultants to help assess the troubles.

Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor has said the state is determined to protect the gains made since the state passed its landmark health care law in 2006. Massachusetts has the highest percentage of insured residents of any state.

Baker also weighed in on the debate over casino gambling.

A proposed November ballot question would repeal the 2011 law legalizing up to three casinos and one slots parlor. None of the licenses have been awarded yet.

Baker said he’s always supported a “go slow” approach on casinos and he doesn’t believe they are a “fundamental economic development strategy.”

Baker also said he supports a higher minimum wage, but would link it to the creation of a state earned income tax credit and changes to the state unemployment insurance system.

Baker said Massachusetts also needs to do more to update the traditional four-year higher education model by incorporating more online learning.

A new poll shows Baker trailing the Democratic front-runner, Attorney General Martha Coakley, in the governor’s race.

The Suffolk University/Boston Herald found that in a head-to-head matchup, Coakley is favored by 44 percent of voters compared to 31 percent for Baker.

The telephone poll of 600 Massachusetts voters from Jan. 29-Feb. 3 has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.