“What my numbers showed is that it made enormous sense to have the individual mandate,’’ [Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Jonathan] Gruber recalled. Without it, the money available for new insurance subsidies would cover half as many people.
“Romney was intrigued with it because of the personal responsibility aspects,’’ said Gruber, recalling his one meeting with the governor. And if younger, healthier people were coaxed into the system, the cost of premiums would moderate for a larger population. …
Romney’s grasp of the subject was “unbelievably impressive,’’ he said, and the governor warmed to the game-changing potential of the individual mandate. Romney’s political advisers, however, “were not that keen on it,’’ Gruber said.
To them, the political hazards spoke louder than the policy-making opportunity. Even at this early date, it was anticipated that Romney would serve only one term and seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
Moving hard on health care would put Romney way out front in a cause generally identified with the left — even though, at the time, the individual mandate was a concept with conservative and Republican roots. In the early 1990s, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, endorsed the idea and some Republicans offered it as an alternative during debate on the doomed national overhaul proposed by then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Despite some aides’ skittishness, no one in the inner circle was expressly opposed when the governor convened the roundtable to hash out the idea, [Timothy R.] Murphy said. Romney himself did not announce a decision, but later told Murphy he favored it.