Romney and ObamaCare: The state of repeal

Mitt Romney appeared on NBC???s Meet the Press over the weekend, and made some remarks that have been portrayed by liberal media sources (and a few nervous conservatives) as a retreat from his commitment to repeal ObamaCare in its entirety.

???I say we???re going to replace ObamaCare,??? Romney began.  ???And I???m replacing it with my own plan. And, you know, even in Massachusetts where I was governor, our plan there deals with preexisting conditions and with young people.???

He later added, ???Well, I???m not getting rid of all of health-care reform.  Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health-care reform that I???m going to put in place.  One is to make sure that those with preexisting conditions can get coverage.  Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like.  I also want individuals to be able to buy insurance, health insurance, on their own, as opposed to only being able to get it on a tax advantage basis through their company.??? (Emphasis mine.)

Romney appeared on Hugh Hewitt???s radio show Monday night, to expand on these remarks.  ???Well, of course, I???m going to repeal Obamacare,??? he vowed.  ???I???ve said that on the campaign trail, I think, every single day.  Obamacare must be repealed in its entirety.  It???s bad policy, it???s bad law, and frankly, a $2 trillion entitlement we don???t want and we certainly can???t afford.???

???I have my own healthcare plan and it does not require Obamacare to make our healthcare system work better,??? Romney promised.  ???Obamacare is a disaster in my opinion, and has to be repealed entirely. But that doesn???t mean that we can???t do some important things to improve our healthcare system – like for instance, getting medical malpractice reform, taking actions to lower the cost of healthcare.  And of course, people shouldn???t be able to be dropped from their insurance if they get ill.  These are all parts of the plan that I put out in Michigan, oh, a year – year and a half ago describing my healthcare plan.???

???So, the Obamacare approach is the wrong way to go,??? he concluded.  ???We need is??? instead of having government choice, we need consumer choice.  And I???ll repeal Obamacare and make sure we put in place the kinds of reforms that bring down the cost of healthcare and make sure, at the same time, we return to the individual and to their states, the responsibility for their care.???

Romney???s proposal for replacing ObamaCare does indeed include the features he describes, and has done so for a long time.  It???s summarized on his campaign website.  The page hasn???t been updated in a while, as evidenced by its reference to ???$500 billion taken from Medicare to pay for ObamaCare.???  As everyone should know by now, the actual figure turned out to be $716 billion.

Nothing he said on Meet the Press is substantively different than the plan he???s advocated since the beginning of his candidacy, but the way he said it ??? particularly the line I highlighted in boldface above ??? created an opening for detractors to claim he???s suddenly lost the appetite for repealing all of ObamaCare.  (If you???ve never liked Romney???s position on health care reform to begin with, fair enough, but he didn???t alter that position in any significant way over the weekend.)

Amusingly, the Daily Beast treated Romney???s Meet the Press appearance as a fainting-couch moment, breathlessly describing it as ???striking??? and asking, ???Was Romney moving to the center????  Anyone who doubts that one of ObamaCare???s purposes is to re-program the American population, forever rewriting our relationship with the government, should consider the ramifications of that question: nominally coming to partial agreement with the most radical left-wing agenda of the modern age is now described as ???moving to the center.???

Part of Romney???s problem is that ObamaCare is such a highly charged topic, for both defenders and opponents, that nuanced criticism becomes difficult.  If Romney says anything but ???burn it to the ground!??? some opponents of ObamaCare will think he isn???t leading the charge against the President???s nightmarish program with all his heart??? but if he does say that, the media will excoriate him as a political vandal who just wants to ruin Barack Obama???s big achievement, without having any concrete proposals to replace it.

Of course, ObamaCare defenders are quick to portray any recognition of the problems ObamaCare purportedly addresses as a wholehearted embrace of its disastrous solutions.  Romney said he wants to ???make sure that those with preexisting conditions can get coverage,??? but he wants to do that with measures including ???high-risk pools, reinsurance, and risk adjustment??? according to the long-standing outline of his plan on his website.  He said he wants to ???assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like,??? but that is very different from mandating that insurance companies treat 26-year-olds as children.

You might find fault with Romney???s proposals, but it???s not necessary to pretend they???re the same as Obama???s ideas, any more than giving states the flexibility to try certain solutions is equivalent to a top-down, Constitution-warping, one-size-fits-all federal program.  Personally, I???m not wild about conceptualizing must-issue coverage for people with pre-existing conditions as ???insurance,??? even when it???s firewalled from the rest of the insurance market with ???high-risk pools.???  I???m all in favor of securing coverage for those people ??? American society will, to its credit, insist on taking care of them, but it should be done in the most efficient and illusion-free manner possible.  But it???s absurd to pretend Romney???s proposal bears any resemblance to ObamaCare???s effort to socialize those costs in the least efficient manner imaginable, using heavy-handed mandates to plug leaks in the system.

Does anyone who wants ObamaCare repealed think their cause ??? or the election of Mitt Romney, which is an absolute precondition for getting us the one real shot we have at doing so ??? would be furthered by Romney responding to the thousands of interview questions he???ll get on the subject with, ???Repeal ObamaCare, period,??? and maybe setting a copy of the bill on fire to emphasize his point?  Does anyone really think that would be good enough in the upcoming presidential debates?  And does anyone truly believe health care, circa 2008, was perfect as it was, in need of no substantial reform at all?  If Romney didn???t offer alternatives to ObamaCare when he discussed repeal, that???s exactly the box he would be stuffed into by the media.