Romney offers a poor defense of health care record

Nearly four years ago, during the height of the last fight for the Republican nomination for president, Mitt Romney gave a speech about religion, which was seen as an attempt to play down his Mormon faith to skeptical socially conservative voters. He received decent reviews from the right. And though he didn’t win the Republican nomination, the issue of religion seemed to be less of a factor from that point forward; though it should never have been an issue at all. But it looks like his magic of taking an issue head on in hopes of making it disappear won’t happen when it comes to RomneyCare.

Yesterday, Mitt Romney offered a defense of the health care plan he was able to push through the legislature as Governor of Massachusetts essentially by defending ObamaCare. Over at Reason, Peter Suderman writes:

[Y]ou know what Mitt Romney loves? RomneyCare—the suspiciously-similar-to-ObamaCare health care overhaul he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts—and, in particular, its individual mandate to purchase health insurance. No, he said, it’s not a perfect system, but compared to ObamaCare’s “government takeover,” RomneyCare is a “more modest proposal,” and he remains proud of it: “I in fact did what I thought was right for the people of my state,” he said.

Here’s the problem: ObamaCare, which includes a health insurance mandate, is a near carbon copy of RomneyCare: a hefty Medicaid expansion coupled to equally large middle-class insurance subsidies, new regulations that all but turn health insurance into a public utility, and an individual mandate to buy a private insurance plan. Indeed, the same Obama administration that Romney accused of being fundamentally anti-American has on multiple occasions explicitly cited the plan that Romney signed into law as the direct model for their plan.

Romney’s only real contrast between his plan and the president’s plan boiled down to a single, simple distinction: Obama’s overhaul was a federal overhaul; Romney’s was state-based. Romney would have us believe that the same system of mandates and regulations that constitutes an unconscionable imposition on individual liberty at the federal level is somehow a natural and great part of the American way of life at the state level. As for the mandate, well, it was a sensible way to enforce encourage “personal responsibility,” a conservative policy solution designed to fend off the “big-government approach” of making taxpayers cough up for uncompensated care while letting hospital emergency rooms crowd with uninsured.

Never mind the absurdity of the idea that complying with the government’s orders is somehow taking “personal responsibility.” The claim about uncompensated care is yet another way in which Romney effectively sides with the Obama administration, which these days is busy making the same point in favor of its health insurance mandate.

Suderman points to a Wall Street Journal editorial that came out yesterday that knocked Romney around and dismantled claims he has made about his health care plan:

The only good news we can find is that the uninsured rate has dropped to 2% today from 6% in 2006. Yet four out of five of the newly insured receive low- or no-cost coverage from the government. The subsidies will cost at least $830 million in 2011 and are growing, conservatively measured, at 5.1% a year. Total state health-care spending as a share of the budget has grown from about 16% in the 1980s to 30% in 2006 to 40% today. The national state average is about 25%.

The safety-net fund that was supposed to be unwound, well, wasn’t. Uncompensated hospital care rose 5% from 2008 to 2009, and 15% from 2009 to 2010, hitting $475 million (though the state only paid out $405 million). “Avoidable” use of emergency rooms—that is, for routine care like a sore throat—increased 9% between 2004 and 2008. Meanwhile, unsubsidized insurance premiums for individuals and small businesses have climbed to among the highest in the nation.

Elsewhere, Philip Klein notes that Romney used myths that have been previously dispelled in order to defend his plan while making a “passionate case for violating personal freedom at the state level.” Over at Cato, Michael Cannon writes that Romney’s candidacy “may be the biggest obstecle to repealing ObamaCare.”

During his speech, I saw a few Democrats say that the White House should send Romney out on the road to defend ObamaCare. It’s snark, for sure, but it’s true. From a electoral standpoint, you don’t want your party dealing with a guy that has a good chance at winning the nomination to have essentially made the case for his opponent’s most well-known legislative accomplishment.

C/P: United Liberty