Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have just run major stories on presidential candidate Mitt Romney's difficulties in getting people to understand the difference between his Massachusetts universal-health-care plan, which featured an individual mandate, subsidies, and forbidding insurance companies to deny coverage for preexisting conditions, and the Obama-Reid-Pelosi plan, which features an individual mandate, subsidies, and forbidding insurance companies to deny coverage for preexisting conditions.
President Obama is putting Romney on the spot by telling Matt Lauer that his bill is similar to Romney's. Daniel Gross of Newsweek recommends that Obama hire Romney -- someone who has management experience, no current job, and "relevant experience in implementing a large-scale health-care reform program, ideally one that involved using an individual mandate and the private insurance system to attain near-universal health insurance" -- to run ObamaCare.
As Romney attacks the Obama bill as an unconstitutional "government takeover," he makes two basic arguments in defending his own plan: First, that the Massachusetts law was passed on a bipartisan basis, hardly a substantive defense. Second, that his was a state plan, not a federal intrusion on state authority. He also offered a "conservative" defense of the individual mandate:
But he did so by adopting a more GOP-friendly vocabulary, declaring it a matter of "personal responsibility" for all people to buy into insurance pools so that "free riders" without insurance can't stick taxpayers with their hospital bills.
"We are a party and a movement of personal responsibility," he said at a book signing in Manchester. He invoked the same idea at the college, calling it a "conservative bedrock principle."
That's a point that Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation made as far back as 1992, but most conservatives didn't embrace the argument. And they've strongly opposed the mandate in the Obama bill.
Conservatives have campaigned for more than a year against the Obama health care bill, with its mandate, subsidies, and insurance regulations. Now they are backing "Repeal It!" efforts and lawsuits to have it declared unconstitutional. Yet such conservative leaders as Rush Limbaugh and the editors of National Review endorsed Mitt Romney, the man who wrote the prototype for ObamaCare, in 2008. Romney is leading Republican polls for the 2012 nomination. Romney just won the straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Council (with only 24 percent, to be sure, and just 1 vote ahead of Rep. Ron Paul). Can the Republican effort to defeat President Obama and repeal ObamaCare really be led by the first American political leader to impose a health care mandate on citizens?
Kevin Williamson's article "Priceless Is Worthless" from the December 21 issue of National Review sat on my nightstand for two months. When I finally read it, I was glad I hadn't pitched it. It was like someone had taken Friedrich Hayek's "The Use of Knowledge in Society" and made it accessible and entertaining:
For the Soviets, there were no real prices, so there was no feedback loop between producers and consumers: If we'd had that model for soft drinks, we'd still be drinking New Coke, and the cola executives in Atlanta would be strutting around in their nifty military uniforms, with epaulets and braid, telling us to drink our New Coke and like it, because they had determined, RATIONALLY, that this is what we want. A good rule of thumb: Fear the man who says he will make things rational by ignoring reality--and ignoring prices is ignoring reality.
Williamson warms my libertarian heart when he exposes laws requiring insurers to cover pre-existing medical conditions as price controls:
You'd never take a bet that you knew you were going to lose, right? Insurance companies won't do that, either, unless they get paid to do so--specifically, unless they are allowed to charge at least as much for covering Preexisting Condition X as it's going to cost them to treat Preexisting Condition X. Ignoring the reality of prices--waving the magic wand and saying: "There shall be no price put on preexisting conditions"--does not solve the problem. Health care costs money. The price is right, and you cannot politically engineer your way out of that reality, no matter how many sickly toddlers you parade around on CNN.
Free-market health care reforms would take a great leap forward if all conservatives and libertarians would just start calling such laws what they are: price controls.