LA JOLLA, Calif. – Perhaps it’s fitting that, days before President Obama signed into law his version of health care reform, former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney retook the lead in the early 2012 White House polls.
According to a March Public Policy Polling survey, Romney led former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee by 28 percent-24 percent among Republican primary voters, with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin securing 23 percent. A day earlier, a separate PPP poll found Romney tied Obama at 44 percent in the general election—a better showing than from any other Republican.
While it’s far too early for these results to be statistically meaningful, a trend can be discerned, as Huckabee and Palin have suffered a decline in their polling, perhaps reflecting a Republican hunger to re-take the White House so strong as to eclipse ideological purity. The PPP poll found that, by a 48 percent-42 percent margin, GOP primary voters deem it more important to nominate a winner than a true conservative—and, evidently, that winner looks like Romney.
In fact, the former Massachusetts governor, whose book “No Apology: The Case for American Greateness” came out earlier in the month, offers despondent Republicans the perfect antidote for the blues.
Romney, after all, possesses a credibility about health care policy rivaled among Republicans only by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Having worked with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature to insure nearly all Massachusetts residents, Romney provides about as stark a contrast to our president as can be imagined on health reform substance and process.
On the merits, the Massachusetts plan has proven far from perfect, but it—or at least Romney’s original vision of it—differs from ObamaCare, for the better, in several important respects.
First and foremost, RomneyCare is a state-based program that heeds local concerns, crafts small-scale solutions, and, by definition, doesn’t raid Medicare for funding.
Second, the original Massachusetts plan imposed neither new taxes on individuals and companies nor mandates on businesses. Instead, it offered larger tax deductions to Bay Staters who purchased insurance. (The legislature later overrode Romney’s veto and levied a $295 per-employee fee on businesses that didn’t contribute to their employees’ premiums.)
Third, Romney sought—ultimately unsuccessfully, as Beacon Hill again overrode his veto—to lower the numerous unwarranted benefits mandated by state law to be covered by insurers by offering high-deductible catastrophic plans, which would have reduced costs and increased personal responsibility.
On process, as well, Romney has much to offer. In contrast to the Obama administration’s ham-handed, party-line approach to inflicting wrenching changes on our health care system, Mitt collaborated with his ideological opponents to enact meaningful health reform.
Romney even enlisted the support of Sen. Edward Kennedy—the bitter rival who’d vanquished him in a 1994 Senate race—in an effort to balance state and federal funding for the Massachusetts program. Just imagine if our current president had genuinely engaged the opposition instead of using vapid “health care summits” to camouflage a deeply ideological and fundamentally flawed scheme.
Indeed, Romney is hearing and answering the call. On National Review Online, the day after the House approved the Senate bill, Romney starkly declared “the act should be repealed. That campaign begins today.” He’s uniquely positioned to make a compassionate yet shrewd case for repeal of ObamaCare and its replacement by a market-centered approach.
Of course, some conservatives—and many liberals—have blasted Romney for criticizing ObamaCare while implementing his own mini-me version of it. But in addition to the key differences outlined above, Romney has aggressively countered this narrative in his book.
He points out that the Heritage Foundation helped design the individual insurance exchange based on free-market principles. And the business-funded Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation found in 2009 that the overall program’s cost is “relatively modest.”
Moreover, he’s come out more strongly than ever for reform of our medical malpractice scheme, which he says “causes doctors to exit badly needed practices” and “put[s] profits ahead of people,” citing an American Medical Association study estimating $200 billion lost every year to the practice of defensive medicine.
And while he approvingly cites Atul Gawande’s iconic New Yorker article on spiraling health care costs—a must-read for liberals critical of American health care—he concludes from it that we must use a combination of Health Savings Accounts, co-insurance, and high deductibles if we’re ever to get serious about cost-control.
2008 wasn’t Romney’s time. But if the thousand-plus people who traveled to a La Jolla bookstore earlier this month to meet the former governor and buy his book are any indication, that time may be now, thanks in no small part to the Democrats’ passage of ObamaCare.
Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and a Republican activist in San Diego. Reach him at email@example.com.