RomneyCare: Trying to Have It Both Ways

Less than a year ago, Mitt Romney boasted of his “success” in solving the problem of underinsurance in Massachusetts through the adoption of his controversial, but groundbreaking RomneyCare program. Today, he’s disclaiming responsibility for the initiative’s failings. Is it another case of flip-flopping on the part of the Rockefeller Republican-cum-supposed conservative?

Back in April, 2006, an op-ed ran in the Wall Street Journal. It was written by then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and it was about a health care scheme that, from everything written in the op-ed, clearly was conceived by him and was considered by him to be a landmark achievement.

In that op-ed, Romney began by relating this story to readers:

“Only weeks after I was elected governor, Tom Stemberg, the founder and former CEO of Staples, stopped by my office. He told me, ‘If you really want to help people, find a way to get everyone health insurance.’ I replied that would mean raising taxes and a Clinton-style government takeover of health care. He insisted: ‘You can find a way.'”

Romney followed on by commenting:

“When I took up Tom’s challenge, I assembled a team from business, academia and government and asked them first to find out who was uninsured, and why,” and “With private insurance finally affordable, I proposed that everyone must either purchase a product of their choice or demonstrate that they can pay for their own health care.”

The emphasis that Romney placed in that op-ed on what has subsequently been dubbed RomneyCare as being his initiative, conceived by him and his team, cannot escape readers. Moreover, those who have discussed the program with Romney personally (and I am one of them) have been struck by his pride in what he obviously sees as his pet project.

So, why is it then that Romney is now saying that he cannot be held responsible for the program’s success or failure? A Boston Globe article that ran on Saturday states that “former governor Mitt Romney has begun to distance himself from the new law and is suggesting that Democrats will be to blame if the plan falters,” and “At recent political appearances, Romney has subtly lowered expectations for the law he championed as governor.”

Could this be because even by last August, it was clear that RomneyCare would cost Massachusetts $151 million more, for 2007 alone, than Romney had said? Could it be because RomneyCare provided a $386 million rate increase to hospitals, doctors and managed care organizations — a tab that federal taxpayers as well as Massachusetts taxpayers are expected to have to pick up? Could it be because the tab for covering low income individuals, just in RomneyCare’s first year, will be $25 million more than planned? Could it be because the intended $250 a month average premiums that Romney described as “affordable” for the then-uninsured (and not just wealthy venture capitalists-cum-politicians) have now skyrocketed to an expected $380 per month, on average — a distinctly unaffordable sum for many in Massachusetts who are now mandated to purchase them, lest they break the law?

In other words, could it be because Romney’s “fiscally sound, market-based universal health care” initiative is yet another flawed, big government initiative with a hefty price tag — and one that, now that crutiny of potential 2008 GOP Presidential nominees is increasing, is acting like a 20-ton weight on Romney’s credibility as a good governance, fiscally conservative, limited government contender as opposed to a Michael Dukakis with an “R” behind his name?

I’ll grant the governor that Democrats make a mess of most things, and making a mess of health care is their particular specialty — so there is some reason to speculate that things might take a turn for the worse with Deval Patrick at the helm. But then the capacity for Democrats to pursue dumb health care policy is why some of us wondered exactly what could be so great about RomneyCare in the first place, given that Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and FamiliesUSA were some of its biggest initial fans (more recently, the Service Employees International Union has also offered kind words for the plan).

Whereas before, Romney was touting the initiative as an example of his ability to deliver as a Republican who works with Democrats to get good things done, now he’s making statements like “I was a little concerned at the signing ceremony when Ted Kennedy showed up.”

Of course, I’m pleased that Romney has finally seen sense and recognized that, with Kennedy’s persistent calls for the institution of socialized medicine as a top legislative priority for about 25 years now, he’s not exactly the guy you want on your side on this particular issue. But given that only a few months ago, Romney was speaking so well of his own, Ted-approved program (and Romney never shied away from it being described as “his”), I find his newfound skepticism of that same program — his — on the basis of Democrat involvement a little less than convincing.

Suddenly, Romney is saying that the same Democrats who he managed to sell on his plan and work with to get it through the legislature are the ones who are going to fiddle with it and make it fail? Surely, if they had wanted a different plan in the first place, with their veto-proof majority, they could have pursued one last year. Instead, they signed up to what Romney wanted, and what Ted and Hillary endorsed, and Romney crowned himself the king of effective bipartisanship. Now, he’s blaming his partners in crime for the demise of a program which he conceived, and which was fraught with difficulties, both practical and philosophical, from the get-go — and of which, ironically, he still can’t abandon pride (I’d sure hate to be his campaign manager).

After all, Romney is quoted in the Globe piece as saying “I’m proud of what we’ve done in Massachusetts” — presumably meaning instituting a big government program defined by huge cost overruns, grossly inaccurate predictions of the average monthly insurance premium for an uninsured person (who is now compelled by Romney’s law to purchase an expensive, Cadillac-style policy, due to Romney’s non-pursuit of insurance regulation reform), and a constant prospect of increased taxes because the former two items were not predicted when the “no-new-taxes” RomneyCare model was put together.

he worst news of all? Romney also told the Globe that “if Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it [RomneyCare], then that will be a model for the nation.” Lucky, lucky us…