They haven’t even finished counting 2010 midterm ballots (New York’s 1st congressional district is still undecided), but already potential Republican candidates are testing the presidential waters for 2012. Among the early frontrunners will be former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Romney will have several powerful advantages: name recognition, plenty of money, a strong organization left over from 2008, and a reputation for business competence during an election in which economic issues and job creation are likely to dominate. But he will also have one enormous albatross hanging around his neck: the Massachusetts health-care program.
One of the clearest lessons of the 2010 elections was that voters remain strongly opposed to President Obama’s health-care reform. And if voters in general dislike Obamacare, Republican voters positively loathe it. According to the most recent Rasmussen survey, voters overall support repealing Obamacare by a margin of 58–37. Among Republicans, 84 percent favor repeal.
Romney’s problem is that, despite his demurrals, the parallels between Obamacare and his 2006 Massachusetts reform plan are striking. Both plans are built around an individual mandate requiring citizens to purchase a government-designed insurance plan. Both plans dramatically increase government subsidies and Medicaid eligibility. Both plans use an exchange to redesign the individual and small-group insurance markets, creating a “managed competition” model for insurance. And both Massachusetts and Obamacare prohibit insurers from managing risk, shifting costs from older and sicker individuals to the young and healthy. Neither Obamacare nor Romneycare includes any substantial cost-containment mechanism.
Romneycare has proven to be a disaster in Massachusetts, providing a clear vision of the future under Obamacare. The number of uninsured has been reduced — at great cost — but the program has failed to achieve the promise of universal coverage. The subsidies and other costs have proven an enormous burden for the state budget. Insurance premiums have continued to rise, leading Massachusetts to attempt to impose premium caps and even a global budget. Insurers are losing money and threatening to pull out of the state.
It isn’t very hard to imagine his primary opponents preparing their 30-second attack ads.
Already, Tea Party activists are raising alarms. Romneycare is “something he’s going to have to explain,” warns Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, “and it might just be a disaster for him.” Plymouth Rock Tea Party founder Lisa Martin says her distaste for Romneycare has forced her to consider other potential candidates, such as Sarah Palin. And presaging national discontent, Tea Party Express president Amy Kremer told the Christian Broadcasting Network that Romney’s Massachusetts health-care reform will “absolutely not pass muster with members.”