Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announces today that he will be a candidate for president. His announcement is expected to tout his business experience and to portray him as the candidate best able to deal with the country’s economic problems. But one thing you are not likely to hear him talk about is his Massachusetts health plan, Romneycare.
Of course, Romney has already tried to put this issue away with a speech in Detroit last month, and he would probably be happy to never talk about it again. But if Romney really believes he can hide from the Romneycare fallout, he is badly mistaken.
In his Detroit speech, Romney trotted out three defenses. First, he says that his plan, unlike Obamacare, did not increase taxes. That is technically true — if you consider only the legislation as Romney signed it. However, it is also true that the legislation relied heavily on federal subsidies — more than $300 million — and was still underfunded. Romney’s successor was forced both to cut back on some benefits that the plan originally offered and to raise the state’s cigarette tax by $1 per pack ($154 million annually) to help pay for the program. The state also imposed approximately $89 million in fees and assessments on health-care providers and insurers.
Similarly, Romney claims that his plan only costs about one percent of the Massachusetts budget and is, therefore, not a budget-busting, big government program. In making this claim, however, Romney fails to note that that accounting does not take into account more than $300 million annually in federal funds. Nor does it count the costs that were pushed off onto Massachusetts businesses and taxpayers through the individual and employer mandates, or the costs of increased insurance premiums.
And, finally, Romney criticizes Obamacare as a “one size fits all” federal plan, whereas his plan was implemented in only one state. That’s true. Governor Romney only messed up the health-care system in Massachusetts, while President Obama has messed up health care for the entire country. Of course, as governor, Romney didn’t have the power to impose his model outside of his state. He now says that he opposes any national plan, calling for states to experiment with different approaches as the “laboratories of democracy.” That would certainly be an improvement over Obamacare. On the other hand, he has repeatedly said that he sees the Massachusetts plan as a model for the nation and has urged other states to copy his approach.
Governor Romney faces many challenges in convincing voters that he really does want to reduce the size, cost, and intrusiveness of government. For example, Romney has recently been pandering to Iowa voters by renewing his support for ethanol subsidies. On other issues, he has been a big supporter of federal involvement in education. He backed No Child Left Behind and once called for the federal government to buy a laptop computer for every child born in America. His record as Massachusetts governor was decidedly mixed. In the Cato Institute’s biannual ranking of governors on fiscal issues, Romney received a grade of only “C.” His philosophy of governing can be seen from his comment, “I’d be embarrassed if I didn’t always ask for federal money whenever I got the chance.”
But the biggest single obstacle to his candidacy remains Romneycare. Unless and until he finds a way to deal with this albatross, he will be a weak and wounded frontrunner.