Commentary

What Mitt and Hillary Have in Common

As he campaigns for the White House, Mitt Romney has had to tap dance around the health-care reforms he enacted while governor of Massachusetts. The first bit of bad news was that the plan’s cost was higher than predicted. Then it reneged on its commitment to cover the uninsured. But the latest bit of news about “RomneyCare” may require even fancier footwork.

The Left is now thanking Romney for making HillaryCare respectable again.

Jonathan Cohn has an article in the latest New Republic titled “Hillary Was Right” [$] that helpfully explains similarities between HillaryCare and RomneyCare:

In Washington, at least, praising HillaryCare will get you laughed off the talk shows. But…if you look closely at the proposals experts and officials are tossing around, you may start to recognize some familiar elements…They also envision, as did HillaryCare, a government role in making sure affordable, high-quality plans are made available — typically, by creating (again, like HillaryCare) some sort of purchasing cooperative through which some, if not all, of the population would buy their coverage. That’s true of the plan former Senator John Edwards proposed as part of his presidential campaign a few months ago. It’s true of the plan Senator Ron Wyden introduced in Congress back in December. It’s even true of the plan former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signed into law before leaving office last year — even though Romney has made mocking HillaryCare a staple of his campaign rhetoric as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination.

Cohn does not think the similarities to HillaryCare are a liability. As the title of the article suggests, he is trying to pat Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) on the back for the reform plan she put forward in 1993 and defended until its death in 1994. The fact that a prominent Republican such as Mitt Romney has now embraced Hillary-style government planning strikes Cohn as confirmation that Sen. Clinton was on the right track.

By bundling the tax dollars of six million Massachusetts residents, Mitt Romney may have made the largest contribution yet to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Cohn is not even referring to some obscure aspect of RomneyCare that was forced down Romney’s throat by a left-wing legislature — which is how Romney’s defenders have tried to explain away parts of the plan, such as the individual mandate, that are unpopular with conservatives. According to Cohn, the aspect of RomneyCare that most resembles HillaryCare is its very centerpiece, which Romney borrowed from the conservative Heritage Foundation: the health insurance “Connector.”

Cohn is essentially correct. The objective of the “Connector” bureaucracy, as described by Heritage Foundation scholars, reads like an exercise in government planning. The “Connector” is supposed to “reorganize[e]…a large part of the state’s private insurance system into ‘single market’ structure with uniform rules and a central ‘clearinghouse’ for administering coverage.”

Why, exactly, do we need a new layer of government bureaucracy to do these things? So we will have someplace to buy health insurance? We’re getting along just fine without layering more bureaucracy on our auto insurance. In fact, we already have a connector for both health and auto insurance. It’s called the Internet. Has anyone ever heard of eHealthInsurance.com?

Why do we need a “Connector” to tell health insurers what to sell and at what price? Those sorts of price controls and mandated benefits are exactly the kind of government planning that is making health insurance so unaffordable. Shouldn’t conservatives be trying to repeal those laws, instead of creating new bureaucracies that will propose, enforce, and defend them?

Aren’t such efforts a distraction from reforms that would reduce government planning? For example, conservatives should be pushing Congress to let individuals and employers purchase coverage from insurers in other states. That would make health insurance more affordable by allowing those purchasers — are you listening, Massachusetts? — to avoid the costly regulations imposed by their own state government. A nationwide market for health insurance would make the Heritage/Romney approach look less like a “Connector” than a “Constrictor.”

If health-insurance markets don’t work as well as they should, it’s because state and federal governments are doing too much planning already. Most importantly, the federal tax code denies workers ownership of their health care dollars and slaps a huge tax penalty on those without job-based coverage. Shouldn’t conservatives be rolling back those government interventions instead of cooking up even more?

If I were advising Sen. Clinton, I would be urging her to boast that her approach to health-care reform enjoys support from conservatives like the Heritage Foundation and Gov. Romney. If I were advising Gov. Romney, I would prescribe a severe case of amnesia and a health-care agenda that actually reduces the role of government.

Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute and coauthor of Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.