If only the Democrats had decided to socialize the food industry or housing, Romneycare would probably still be viewed as a massive triumph for conservative free-market principles — as it was at the time.
It’s not as if we had a beautifully functioning free market in health care until Gov. Mitt Romney came along and wrecked it by requiring that Massachusetts residents purchase their own health insurance. In 2007, when Romneycare became law, the federal government alone was already picking up the tab for 45.4 percent of all health care expenditures in the country.
Until Obamacare, mandatory private health insurance was considered the free-market alternative to the Democrats’ piecemeal socialization of the entire medical industry.
In November 2004, for example, libertarian Ronald Bailey praised mandated private health insurance in Reason magazine, saying that it “could preserve and extend the advantages of a free market with a minimal amount of coercion.”
A leading conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, helped design Romneycare, and its health care analyst, Bob Moffit, flew to Boston for the bill signing.
Romneycare was also supported by Regina Herzlinger, Harvard Business School professor and health policy analyst for the conservative Manhattan Institute. Herzlinger praised Romneycare for making consumers, not business or government, the primary purchasers of health care.
The bill passed by 154-2 in the Massachusetts House and unanimously, 37-0, in the Massachusetts Senate — including the vote of Sen. Scott Brown, who won Teddy Kennedy’s seat in the U.S. Senate in January 2010 by pledging to be the “41st vote against Obamacare.”
But because both Obamacare and Romneycare concern the same general topic area — health care — and can be nicknamed (politician’s name plus “care”), Romney’s health care bill is suddenly perceived as virtually the same thing as the widely detested Obamacare. (How about “Romneycare-gate”?)
As The New York Times put it, “Mr. Romney’s bellicose opposition to ‘Obamacare’ is an almost comical contradiction to his support for the same idea in Massachusetts when he was governor there.” This is like saying state school-choice plans are “the same idea” as the Department of Education.
One difference between the health care bills is that Romneycare is constitutional and Obamacare is not. True, Obamacare’s unconstitutional provisions are the least of its horrors, but the Constitution still matters to some Americans. (Oh, to be there when someone at The Times discovers this document called “the Constitution”!)
As Rick Santorum has pointed out, states can enact all sorts of laws — including laws banning contraception — without violating the Constitution. That document places strict limits on what Congress can do, not what the states can do. Romney, incidentally, has always said his plan would be a bad idea nationally.
The only reason the “individual mandate” has become a malediction is because the legal argument against Obamacare is that Congress has no constitutional authority to force citizens to buy a particular product.