Fact-Checking Mitt

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal [$], Mitt Romney attempts to differentiate the reforms he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts from the health care reforms Hillary Clinton introduced this week. 

It seems to me that some of Romney’s claims go beyond spin. For instance:

  • “By contrast, both the reforms I led in Massachusetts and the federalist reform plan I recently proposed do not raise taxes or increase spending.”

Nearly everything about the Massachusetts law was a tax increase. When Romney’s HHS secretary Tim Murphy tried to deny that the plan included new taxes, I detailed the new taxes here. Massachusetts also had to increase subsidies more than projected to help people comply with the mandate.

  • “People who don’t obtain insurance through their employer are invited to buy a government-run, Medicare-like plan or enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) [under Clinton’s proposal] … . My plan in Massachusetts instead allowed the uninsured to choose a private insurance product from one of the many private insurance companies.” 

The FEHBP, which Clinton proposes to open to all Americans, gives enrollees a choice of private plans. It is no more or less “government-run” than the Massachusetts Connector of which Romney writes. I don’t see how Romney can claim one is government-run and the other is not. (The New Republic’s [$] Jonathan Cohn and others have also noted the similarities between the Connector and Clinton’s 1993 purchasing cooperatives.)

  • “Before you can impose a mandate on employers or individuals to purchase insurance, you need to reform state health insurance markets. Otherwise, policies can be so beefed-up with state mandated coverage and regulation that they are simply unaffordable. Then a mandate is unfair.” 

This implies that Massachusetts reformed its health insurance market so as to remove the beefed-up regulations. But the Massachusetts law did not do that. The Connector Board itself ruled that coverage was still unaffordable for 20% of the state’s uninsured, whom they admittedly exempted from the mandate. If anything, the regulations have become more onerous. About 200,000 residents will have to purchase more insurance than they currently purchase in order to comply with the law.

  • “I chose an individual mandate only after we had done our best to reform state insurance regulations — lowering premiums by as much as 50%…. [W]e worked to reduce the burdens of regulation. The legislature insisted on more coverage mandates and regulation than I would have liked, but even so, less regulation has resulted in much lower premiums.” 

The Boston Globe truth-squads a similar claim and finds the reduction in premiums came from factors like political pressure, restrictions on access to providers, and greater pooling — not deregulation. Moreover, political pressure cannot last, while pooling raises someone else’s premiums to compensate. Overall, premiums under the Massachusetts law came in at more than projected. And premiums in Massachusetts are growing at 8-12 percent per year, compared to 6-8 percent for the rest of the country. Romney may not be responsible for that trend, but does anyone but Romney claim he has done anything to temper it?

I hope someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see how Romney can substantiate these claims.