03/26/10

Say Goodbye to Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney had his chance, and he blew it.

He was given the opportunity to establish himself as the Leader of the Republican Party on what has become the defining issue between the nation's two major political parties, and, in the process, solidify his position as the front-running candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination; but rather than showing the intelligence, cunning, and courage necessary to take ownership of the issue, he showed none, and blew it.

All he had to do was say six simple words, words Americans love to hear: "I was wrong. I am sorry."

Consider:

Supporters of ObamaCare say the essence of their plan came from Massachusetts, where Romney, as governor, had enacted a massive health care reform proposal.

Whether or not it is true that RomneyCare begat ObamaCare is a matter of dispute; for political purposes, that's beside the point -- supporters of ObamaCare have decided that one of their main selling points is that it was "modeled" on the Massachusetts reform plan signed into law by Romney. Skeptics can see what I mean with a quick glance at this montage posted to YouTube.

Romney, not surprisingly, is one of those who disputes the notion that RomneyCare is the father of ObamaCare. Of course, Romney is self-interested in his analysis -- he doesn't want potential 2012 GOP presidential primary voters to think ill of him.

Two and a half weeks ago, for instance, Romney appeared on FOX News Sunday, where he responded to a challenge posed by host Chris Wallace:

Let me tell you, there's a big difference between what we did and what President Obama is doing. What we did, I think, is the ultimate conservative plan. We said people have to take responsibility for getting insurance, if they can afford it, or paying their own way. No more free-riders. And we solved this at the state level -- not a federal plan, but a state plan.

This is a federalist nation. States should be able to solve their own problems. We didn't raise taxes. We did not at the same time cut Medicare and expect our seniors to have to pay for all this. We didn't do what President Obama's doing, which is putting controls on our system of premiums for private insurance companies.

And let me just tell you, I think our plan is working well.

Is it? Is the plan working well?

Not according to this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute:

While Massachusetts' uninsured rate has dropped to around 3%, 68% of the newly insured since 2006 receive coverage that is heavily or completely subsidized by taxpayers. While Mr. Romney insisted that everyone should pay something for coverage, that is not the way his plan has turned out. More than half of the 408,000 newly insured residents pay nothing, according to a February 2010 report by the Massachusetts Health Connector, the state's insurance exchange.

Another 140,000 remained uninsured in 2008 and were either assessed a penalty or exempted from the individual mandate because the state deemed they couldn't afford the premiums.

Mr. Romney's promise that getting everyone covered would force costs down also is far from being realized. One third of state residents polled by Harvard researchers in a study published in "Health Affairs" in 2008 said that their health costs had gone up as a result of the 2006 reforms. A typical family of four today faces total annual health costs of nearly $13,788, the highest in the country. Per capita spending is 27% higher than the national average ...

Further, insurance companies are required to sell "just-in-time" policies even if people wait until they are sick to buy coverage. That's just like the Obama plan. There is growing evidence that many people are gaming the system by purchasing health insurance when they need surgery or other expensive medical care, then dropping it a few months later.

Well, suggests Romney to those who say RomneyCare ain't all it's cracked up to be, the current program is the result of changes made after he had left office, by a governor of a different political persuasion.

But that's not true.

In fact, a reading of Romney's own words, as taken from Chapter 7 of his recently-released book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," reveals that the fundamental flaws of RomneyCare were embedded in its initial infrastructure:

The plan we ultimately constructed and proposed to the legislature relied on three basic components:

First, those who could afford insurance would either buy it or pay their own health-care costs [sic] -- no more free riders showing up at the hospital expecting to get care at the taxpayers' expense. If they did not buy insurance or establish an account to pay for their medical expenses, they would forego the benefit of a tax exemption.

Second, for those who couldn't afford health insurance on their own, the state would pay a portion of their premium with the amount of the subsidy determined on a sliding scale by income. Importantly, no one got health insurance for free -- even the poor would pay some amount they could afford.

Finally, to make it easier for insurers to service their individual customers, the state would create a "connector" or "exchange" that would collect premiums and pass them on to the insurers.

So all the elements of what is now known as RomneyCare -- the individual mandate, tax penalties for those who failed to purchase insurance as required by law, taxpayer subsidies for those who couldn't afford to purchase insurance, a government health "exchange" -- were there from the beginning. In fact, these were the central features of Romney's plan, because Romney chose to focus his health reform efforts on expanding coverage, rather than on bringing down costs.

So whether Romney likes it or not, it sure looks as if RomneyCare is the intellectual father to ObamaCare.

And that is precisely what gave Romney his opening to become every Republican and conservative activist's dream candidate for 2012.

Imagine what would have been the response to Romney if, instead of denying the patrimony, Romney had answered Wallace's challenge thusly:

Well, you're exactly right, Chris. What we tried in Massachusetts sure does look an awful lot like what President Obama is trying to do now. He's got an individual mandate, and tax penalties for those who fail to purchase insurance on their own, and subsidies for those who can't afford to purchase insurance, and he's even got a government health "exchange."

And guess what, Chris? I'm willing to bet that it won't work any better at the federal level than it has at the state level. The fact of the matter is, we tried it, and it doesn't work -- Massachusetts has the highest insurance premiums in the nation, and our state's per-capita spending is 27 percent higher than the national average.

Guess what else we found? When you expand the availability of insurance, you increase the demand for medical services. But we didn't do anything to expand the number of doctors in Massachusetts. So now our doctors are seriously overworked. In fact, more than half our internists are refusing to take new patients -- that's right, the ones who just got insurance for the first time because of the changes we made. Having insurance is great, Chris, but only if you actually get to see a doctor when you need to. Otherwise, what's the point?

We conservatives have always said the states are the laboratories of democracy. Well, we tried ObamaCare in Massachusetts, and it didn't work.

I was wrong. I am sorry. But I learned my lesson. And the good news is, America can learn from our mistakes. America can learn from the Massachusetts experience.

Romney could have then pivoted to become the tribune of the anti-ObamaCare forces, telling his first-hand story of trial and error, and making himself a hero in the process.

But that, apparently, requires a level of intelligence (to see the problems his reforms have led to), and cunning (to see how he could turn that massive political negative into a political positive), and courage (to be willing to say in public that he was wrong, and to apologize) that the former governor seems to be lacking.

So say goodbye to Mitt Romney as a Republican presidential contender in 2012. He had his chance, and he blew it.

 

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