Mitt Romney’s defense of Romneycare to conservatives has always hinged on federalism. That sort of policy wouldn’t be right nationally, but states are free to implement it. And he’s right, but that doesn’t change the fact that Romneycare is top-down, government-controlled health care of the sort no conservative should support whatever level of government is supporting it.
So you wouldn’t think Romney would want to spend a lot of time on the campaign trail talking about health care policy that is a) extremely unpopular with his base and b) isn’t all that dissimilar from the national policy he castigates his opponent Barack Obama for.
You wouldn’t think, anyway:
Mitt Romney is invoking his Massachusetts healthcare law in the lead-up to the Republican convention, alarming conservatives who argue it’s a losing issue for his campaign.
Romney’s new willingness to talk about the issue could be a sign that he thinks the Massachusetts law could help him in November.
“My healthcare plan I put in place in my state has everyone insured,” Romney told a CBS reporter on Thursday. In a second interview, he called the law an “important accomplishment” that is “working, by and large, pretty well.”
Setting aside the ideological questions, the fact is that Romneycare isn’t working “pretty well.” And you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan, who called the Massachusetts health insurance system “unsustainable” back in 2010:
I’m not a fan of the system … I’ve got some relatives up there in Massachusetts. My uncle’s a cardiologist in Boston and I’ve talked to a lot of health folks up there who — what’s happening now is because costs are getting out of control, premiums are increasing in Massachusetts and now you have a bureaucracy that is having to put all these controls and now rationing on the system. So people in Massachusetts are saying, yes we have virtually universal health care — I think it’s like 96, 98 percent insured — but they see the system bursting by the seams. They see premium increases, rationing and benefit cuts. And they are frustrated with this system. No. 1, they don’t want to pay for another system on top of it … No. 2, they see how this idea of having the government being the single regulator of health insurance defining what kind of health insurance you can have, and then an individual mandate, it is a fatal conceit, and these kinds of systems, as we are now seeing in Massachusetts, are unsustainable.
In 2011 Doug Bandow took a look at Romneycare and found that while the policy did result in a modest increase in the percentage of citizens insured, it came at a heavy cost:
To be sure, it has caused about 95 to 96 percent of Massachusetts residents to be insured. But 90 percent or more were insured before the law passed.
And so Gov. Romney’s accomplishment was actually quite modest. But the cost has been anything but.
Last year Massachusetts State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill wrote that Romneycare “was projected to cost taxpayers $88 million a year. However, since this program was adopted in 2006, our health-care costs have in total exceeded $4 billion.”
Romneycare spread the financial pain widely. In June, the Beacon Hill Institute estimated higher costs of $8.6 billion since the law was implemented. Just $414 million was paid by Massachusetts.
Medicaid (federal payments) covered $2.4 billion. Medicare took care of $1.4 billion. Even more costs, $4.3 billion, have been imposed on the private sector mdash; employers, insurers and residents.
As expenses have risen, so have insurance premiums. Economists John F. Cogan, Glenn Hubbard, and Daniel Kessler estimate that Romneycare inflated premiums by 6 percent from 2006 to 2008.
That hardly sounds like policy which is working.
Politically speaking, I really don’t understand the argument Romney is trying to make by touting Romneycare. It’s essentially the same policy as Obamacare, only implemented at the state level. Is Romney arguing that this sort of governemnt-controlled health care policy ought to be implemented on a state-by-state basis rather than nationally by the federal government? If so, that seems like a trivial quibble with Obama’s plan in that little would change from the end insurance/health care user.