Romney defends Massachusetts health-care law and takes pains to differentiate it from Obamacare

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

In a speech Thursday, Mitt Romney took a major political risk by repeatedly endorsing Massachusetts’ health-care mandate and emphasizing his belief that federal and state governments can shape the nation’s health-care markets to promote consumer choice, marketplace efficiencies, state experimentation and health.

By “allowing 50 states to create their own approach,” he said, “states compete and voters will vote out the people who didn’t come up with good ideas, we’ll end up with a better system.”

The solution to the inefficiencies that are driving up costs, “is to get health-care to work like a market,” he told a roomful of supporters at the University of Michigan’s Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. “We want to make the markets work better,” he said at the event, which was broadcast to GOP commentators and primary voters from Alaska to Vermont.

Romney has the money to help him outlast his rivals in a long campaign season, but he’s burdened by the Mass-Care monkey that he placed on his back in 2006 when he pushed the state’s law, with its increasingly expensive costs and individual mandate. Romney argued that the state’s mandate was needed to counter the “free-riders,” that is, people who delay getting insurance-premiums until they get sick.

Democrats gleefully declare Romney’s Mass-Care law to be a model for President Barack Obama’s Obamacare law.

GOP primary voters deeply dislike both laws, as well as the Democrats’ faith in the ability of their experts to manage the economy, the health sector, family lives and much else. This distrust of government-backed expertise cuts is shared by the often-fractious base of GOP primary voters. Libertarian-minded activists say the market should govern the economy and health sector, and social-conservative activists say parents should govern their families’ lives.

Romney’s rivals say his trust in experts puts him in the same ideological boat as Obama. That’s the charge being leveled at him by the Wall Street Journal and other free-market advocates.

However, Romney’s defense of the Mass-Care law denies rivals the opportunity to tag him as a flip-flopper. It could reassure older voters in the GOP primaries, and swing voters in the general election, who worry that the application of free-market principles could further upset government-backed health programs.

Pundits and rivals want him to abandon the Mass-Care model, and instead promote some other plan, said Romney. But, “there’s only one problem with that: it would not be honest,” he said. “I, in fact, did what I thought was right for the people of my state” by signing the act into law, he said.

Romney took pains to separate his state’s plan from Obama’s existing law. In Massachusetts, “our plan was state solution to state problems — his is a power grab by the federal government to put a one-size plan out for the entire nation.”

His federal plan would promote consumers’ power to pick services, which would drive down cost and increase quality, he said. Federal laws would level tax treatment of health-care plans, allowing people to carry their health-insurance plans with them as they changed jobs, even if they have a pre-existing condition. Federal funds would be bloc-granted to states, he said, allowing each state to design their own health-care system.

Obamacare drives up costs, reduces research and innovation, cuts Medicare spending,discourages employment and is an “economic nightmare,” Romney said. “The Obama administration fundamentally does not believe in the American experience, they fundamentally distrust free-enterprise, and distrust the idea that the states is were government resides,” he said.

“If I’m the [presidential] nominee on the Republican side of the aisle, and if I get the chance to debate President Obama, this is what we’ll be talking about,” Romney said. “I’m confident that considering those two plans, people will say Mitt Romney’s reforms are better.”