Critical Condition

Mitt’s Millstone Still Weighs Him Down

In January 2006, when Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney unveiled his plan to remake the Bay State’s health-care system, I was an early critic. The governor’s two goals, like those of President Obama, were universal coverage and reducing health-care costs. The bill was passed into law in April and Romneycare just celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Two main pillars of his plan were the individual mandate and the insurance exchange or Commonwealth Connector. The former has been a millstone around Romney’s neck. He has spent the last few years trying to explain to the American people how it was right for Massachusetts but not for the country. There is no question in my mind that Romneycare and Obamacare are one and the same. As MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber who helped design both plans has said, Romneycare was the basis for Obamacare. 

Yesterday, everyone was waiting with bated breath for his speech at the University of Michigan. The media was awash with speculation as to whether he would defend his health-care plan or denounce it. He could have said that, having seen the impact of his reform on coverage and costs, he had changed his mind. That would have given him more credibility in his quest for the presidential nomination. In fact, if he is serious about his candidacy, he should have renounced his health-care plan two years ago. Alas, it was not to be. He is still defending his plan even though the results from the Bay State’s reforms are very disappointing.

Universal coverage has not been achieved: About 100,000 are still uninsured even with the individual mandate, and costs are out of control. This year the plan will cost taxpayers about $1.8 billion, and, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, over the next 10 years Romneycare will likely cost $2 billion more than projected.

Coverage was expanded by putting more people on the dole. Since 2006, 440,000 have been added to the state-funded insurance rolls; Medicaid enrollment is up almost 25 percent, and emergency-room use between 2004 and 2008 was up by 9 percent or 3 million visits. One of the goals of Romneycare was to reduce ER use, not increase it. And, the average employer-sponsored family plan costs nearly $14,000 — higher than anywhere else in the nation.

A survey released on May 9 by the Massachusetts Medical Society contained dire news for the people of the Bay State. According to the release, fewer than half of primary-care practices are taking new patients, down from 70 percent in 2007. The average wait for a routine examination with an internist is now 48 days. The wait for an appointment with a gastroenterologist is now 43 days, up from 36 days last year. It appears that the state is trying to catch up to Canada where under its “Medicare for all system,” the average wait from seeing a primary-care doctor to getting treatment by a specialist is 18.2 weeks. 

So much for Romney’s bold statement in 2006 that, “Every uninsured citizen in Massachusetts will soon have affordable health insurance and the cost of health care will be reduced.” By not renouncing this plan in his speech in Ann Arbor, he has ensured that the American people will not trust his many statements on how his reforms will differ from Obamacare. While he gave his latest speech at the cardiovascular center at the University of Michigan, it did not reduce the heartburn that Americans feel about Romneycare or his plan if elected president. He promised that on his first day in office he would issue an executive order paving the way for the states to obtain waivers to opt out of Obamacare. He subsequently added that he would call on Congress to fully repeal the health-care law. But Mitt Romney’s ideas for reform will not bring about affordable, accessible quality care for all Americans, which should be the goal of any plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

— Sally C. Pipes is president, ceo, and Taube Fellow in Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.  Her latest book is The Truth About Obamacare (Regnery).

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