Romney Signs Mass. Health Care Law
BOSTON – Gov. Mitt Romney on Wednesday signed into law a landmark bill designed to guarantee virtually all Massachusetts residents have health insurance.
However, the governor vetoed a key portion of the bill — a $295-per-worker assessment on businesses that do not provide health insurance. Some critics have called that provision a tax on businesses.
The bill, intended to extend coverage to Massachusetts’ estimated 550,000 uninsured, is being touted as a national model, thrusting the state to the forefront of the national debate about how to provide near-universal health care coverage without creating a single government-controlled system.
It’s also a political coup for Romney as he weighs a potential run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. The bill could be a centerpiece of that campaign if Romney can credibly claim pushing through a groundbreaking health care reform package.
Romney used his line-item veto power to strike eight portions of the bill, most significantly the $295 fee. Administration officials say the fee could actually discourage registration for the new health program, since some employers might consider it cheaper to pay the fee than to insure workers.
“It’s a very small feature of this bill. It’s a very insignificant and unnecessary and, in some respects, counterproductive element of this bill,” Romney had told The Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday. “It applies to a tiny number of employers, and it raises a very small amount of money relative to the scale of this entire proposal. So I don’t think it’s necessary.”
This is a mistake, mostly because it doesn’t address the real problem at the heart of the health insurance issue. Frankly, this puts Romney off of my list for possible Presidential candidates in 2008.
A lot of people (mostly on the left though, as evidenced by Romney, some on the right too) make the mistake of thinking that the root problem of the health insurance issue is the fact that some people don’t have it (whether by choice or circumstance). That is not the root problem. The root problem is that health insurance is so expensive that all but a tiny minority of rich Americans must rely on their employer or their government to provide health care for them. If health care were more affordable it wouldn’t be the problem it is today, and providing it for those who truly cannot afford it for themselves wouldn’t be an insurmountable task.
We need to be approaching this problem differently. Rather than looking at ways we can provide health insurance for those who don’t have it (or force businsses to provide it) we should be looking at ways to fix the system so that citizens can afford to provide it for themselves and their families. Mandating health insurance doesn’t solve that problem. In fact, it makes it worse.
Health insurance companies have to be loving this legislation. Why? Because it forces every resident of Mass. to do business with them. These companies can now, collectively, raise prices with relative impunity. Granted, the insurance companies can’t get too carried away lest they face price caps from angry politicans (and wouldn’t that be a mess, mandated private insurance with a capped price), but I’d be willing to bet that in five years health insurance prices will be significantly higher in that state than they are now. Which, as I said, just makes the problem worse.
Nobody in Mass. is being made more responsible for their health choices. This is just another shift of the burden away from the individual and onto the collective. Nobody will shop around for their health care. Instead they’ll take what is convenient regardless of the cost and the same problems we have under the current pseudo-private system will continue under this new even-less-private system. All that’s happened is that we’ve moved one step closer to socialized medicine when we ought to be moving closer to individuals paying for their own health insurance and care.