Last Updated:July 24 @ 12:03 pm

Charen: What Romney Needs to Say About Romneycare

By Mona Charen

Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom's blunder -- telling an interviewer that Romney believes the individual mandate is not a tax -- was politically dumb, if revealing. It suggests that the Romney camp continues to struggle with the ghost of Romneycare. Romney's subsequent attempt at clarification, saying that it's a tax because the Supreme Court said it is, though, "I agreed with the dissent," succeeded only in further confusing matters.

The campaign desperately needs clarity on this issue. It needs also to shake that worrying tentativeness on Romneycare -- a timidity that suggests to voters that Romney has something to hide.

The answer to the question: "Wasn't Romneycare exactly the same thing as Obamacare?" is, to quote Nancy Pelosi, "Are you serious?" The Massachusetts law contained an individual mandate, which states -- unlike the federal government -- are allowed to impose. But it did not consist of 2,700 pages of new regulations; 159 new boards and commissions; and more than $500 billion in new taxes (and counting); the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a rationing board whose decisions are unreviewable by the courts and practically untouchable by Congress itself; restrictions on religious liberty; Medicare cuts; affirmative action mandates for medical and dental schools; huge new authority over one-seventh of the U.S. economy for the Secretary of Health and Human Services; and open-ended regulations of the way doctors and others perform their jobs.

Beyond that, a glance at the history of Romneycare in Massachusetts shows that Romney's instincts and initiatives were for free-market reforms. An 85 percent Democratic legislature thwarted his best efforts, and a Democratic successor as governor twisted the law's trajectory dramatically.

Before Romney's time, Massachusetts had enacted a number of laws that made its health care system needlessly expensive. All policies offered in the state were required to cover expensive treatments such as substance abuse counseling and infertility. In 1996, the state passed a law requiring "guaranteed issue" and "community rating" -- meaning people could wait until they got sick to purchase health insurance. Naturally, rates skyrocketed. In addition, a 1986 federal law required hospital emergency rooms to treat all patients, regardless of ability to pay.

Romney's idea was to permit Massachusetts insurers to sell catastrophic plans. As Avik Roy explained in Forbes, "Shorn of the costly mandates and restrictions originating in earlier state laws, these plans, called 'Commonwealth Care Basic,' could cost much less. Romney also proposed merging the non-group and small-group markets, so as to give individuals access to the more cost-effective plans available to small businesses." Romney's plan would also have involved a degree of cost sharing so that those receiving subsidies would have an incentive to minimize their consumption.

Romney agreed to the mandate, believing that Massachusetts citizens would get the opportunity to purchase inexpensive, catastrophic plans. But the legislature, together with Romney's successor as governor, Deval Patrick, changed the law to require insurers to offer three tiers of coverage -- all of them far beyond catastrophic care. Perhaps Romney ought to have foreseen what future legislatures and governors would do -- but that's a far cry from the accusation that Romneycare was indistinguishable from Obamacare.

Romney's proposed reforms included fraud prevention measures for Medicaid, requiring the income of both parents to be considered in children's Medicaid eligibility, medical malpractice tort reform, and giving individuals the same treatment as small businesses in the purchase of health plans. He envisioned a system of increased competition and choice.

The bill that passed the legislature contained a number of features Romney couldn't countenance. He opposed the mandate, preferring to permit individuals to post a $10,000 bond in lieu of insurance. The legislature overrode him. He vetoed the employer mandate, coverage for illegal aliens, the creation of a new bureaucracy to be called The Public Health Council, a provision limiting improvements to Medicaid, and one expanding Medicaid coverage to include dental care. His vetoes were overridden.

The health reform law Romney introduced -- as opposed to the one that was implemented by his successor -- stressed competition, reduced regulation and expanded choice for the consumer.

It was a mistake for Romney to sign the bill. As Avik Roy put it, "The individual mandate was a loaded gun that Romney handed to his opponents, who used it to force individuals to buy comprehensive insurance they didn't need." But Romney's bona fides as a free-market advocate and critic of Obamacare are not undermined by Romneycare. He can rightly claim that he foresaw, and attempted to prevent, the consequences of heavy-handed government control of the health care market.

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28 Comments

  1. viperComment by viperkat
    July 6, 2012 @ 7:47 am

    If, indeed, Romney’s healthcare proposals were overwritten by the Democratic Legislature, then publish that fact, far and wide. Insure that those responsible for the changes are brought up and publish their names. Politics is a nasty, vile game so the GOP should start playing to win, instead of wallowing in the Liberal mire looking for a life ring. The GOP will have to haul their butt out of this mess if they want to win in November.

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    • xfdnymedicComment by xfdnymedic
      July 6, 2012 @ 9:19 am

      I’m beginning to think he’s playing a game. Both sides, dems and repubs are playing a game with the American people. The dems do illegal things like immigration and suing states that enforce the laws. They lie, cheat, steal and do anything to win. The repubs just sit back and do nothing. I am a republican, but am thinking about going to independent because the repubs are poison also. At the end of the day, they all probably go to the local pub and laugh about how they are playing the people. I’m disgusted with all of them.

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    • JDZComment by JDZ
      July 6, 2012 @ 10:26 am

      Do not allow yourself to opt out in this election cycle. No President in our history has perverted the Presidency into a form of dictatorship as Obama has done. He continues to ignore due process and existing laws and uses executive orders and internal policy changes to do whatever he wants without any reviews and approvals by our legislative branch of government. He continues to route taxpayer money to political cronies in numerous ways without constraint. Obama and his socialist cronies must be thrown out of the Whitehouse.

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    • johnsnareComment by johnsnare
      July 6, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

      Correct,viperkat. For goodness sake,own up to it, and move on. If Obama, was able to hide, and move forward after the Rev Wright, so can Romney. Compared to Obama, this issue, is a non issue. Tell America what Obama has not accomplished, and that would be an entire speech.

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  2. genesalComment by genesal
    July 6, 2012 @ 8:35 am

    New Friction Grows Between Romney, Conservatives over Obamacare

    http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/romney-conservatives-healthcare-journal/2012/07/05/id/444542?s=al&promo_code=F65C-1

    …….. The concerns were summarized in an editorial late on Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, which said Romney’s Boston-based staff was “slowly squandering an historic opportunity.”

    My take is if he goes spends time outside the U.S. by traveling to Israel and to Europe that he will lose the election. Just my opinion.

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  4. nickster99Comment by nickster99
    July 6, 2012 @ 10:11 am

    Dont forget he was the Governor of the peoples republic of Massachussets. They probably wanted Romneycare and he went a long with it!

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  5. joe93Comment by joe93
    July 6, 2012 @ 10:27 am

    This is probably the best explanation of the Mass healthcare law and how it came to pass that I’ve seen.

    If what this article says is true, then some of my blame on Romney is alleviated.

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  6. nickster99Comment by nickster99
    July 6, 2012 @ 11:12 am

    The person we need is a true Regan conservative. There are a couple guys out there but they are just not interested. I sure wish they were at a time when this country needs them more than anything! Maybe for the Veep spot? I hope!
    I still think Romney will win. His running mate pick will make him, take it all or lose it all! I just want someone I can totally stand behind. The jobs report came out today and it is just disgusting. Anyway the true unemployment rate is around 18-20% not 8.2%.

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    • agent007Comment by agent007
      July 6, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

      True unemployment is indeed way above 8.2 %, but Romney sticks to facts, when he states that it is around 15 %.

      I have done the math, researching numbers from various official websites, and due to the people that are currently not counted as unemployed, because they gave up on the job market, this 15 % is the best estimate I can currently support.

      Way to high, and shame on those Libs that are trying to convince the general public that so many jobs have been created! If you lose more than you create, then the net gain is negative! Simple math! Do not let the Libs pull the wool over your eyes!

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  7. JDZComment by JDZ
    July 6, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    One of the main strategies of the Obama campaign team is to keep the independents and the various factions within the conservative domain upset and unable to unite behind Romney. They will use whatever propaganda to create discord, misunderstandings, false perceptions, etc. to distract voters from the takeover of our country that is happening by socialist radicals in our government. They know that if their figurehead leader in Barack Obama is not re-elected, it will dramatically set back their agenda.

    We cannot allow Obama to be given a second term and continue his destructive policies. Nothing he is doing is in the best interests of the American people at large when you step back and put everything in context.

    Obamacare must be repealed and replaced because this legislation alone is the single largest move in our history of an attempt by the federal government to take direct control of the American people. Once you give the government total control of healthcare (Medicare, Medicaid, and then Obamacare) we are in big trouble. Of all of the individual freedoms we need to retain is our personal individual control of how we handle our healthcare. Medicare and Medicaid are huge government entitlement programs that are necessary for seniors and low income Americans that taxpayers have been carrying for years, and both of them have grown into a bureaucratic behemoth that are in a deep financial mess. Government cannot be trusted to manage large complex services in an efficient and cost effective manner, it is just not in it’s DNA. To give the government total control of healthcare starting with birth, is a really insane idea when you just step back and look at how the government has screwed up the USPS, AMTRAK, SS, Medicare, and Medicaid. Everything the government touches ends up being more expensive then forecasted and always fails to deliver in promised ways. Medicare and Medicaid are both heading toward financial insolvency and need to be restructured, and it would be stupid to put another program, which is much larger and complex, under the same incompetent wing of the government.

    Come on people, use good commonsense, and instead of allowing the government bureaucrats, particularly those with socialist mindsets, to force this Obamacare concept onto us, let’s stop that by electing Romney President so that we can repeal and replace this insane idea.

    I am confident that someone with the business experience Romney has, coupled with his experience with Romneycare, can design a replacement concept that would be much better then Obamacare in many ways. I trust Romney, and congressional members like Ryan and Cantor, to figure out a workable and affordable healthcare concept that solves the highest priority healthcare needs of the American people. My guess is that Romney will create a cross functional team consisting of private healthcare providers, medical equipment and pharmaceutical suppliers, and others with healthcare experience to work together to create a hybrid approach that leverages the existing infrastructure and expertise in our private healthcare industries, to avoid creating another government costly bureaucracy.

    We all know that once government takes over any part of the service industry and creates a non-competitive monopoly, the cost goes up and the quality of the service goes down.

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    • LAPhilComment by LAPhil
      July 6, 2012 @ 11:35 am

      Well said, JDZ. It’s time to drop this silly debate about whether Obamacare constitutes a tax or a penalty, because at the end of the day it’s just a matter of semantics, and the essence of the bill doesn’t change one iota whether you call it a tax or a penalty. What matters is that it gets repealed in its entirety.

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    • agent007Comment by agent007
      July 6, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

      Absolutely correct.

      THis is NOT a debate on whether or not we should provide healthcare to some poor souls that would otherwise not be covered.
      This is about affordability of healthcare.
      We ALL agree changes are necessary, but not spending us into oblivian like the Obama machine is doing, especially with this monstruosity of a new entitlement program.

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  8. AMVoterComment by AMVoter
    July 6, 2012 @ 11:37 am

    Eric Fehrnstrom sounded like a plant working for obama. Romney should have fired him. Romney is missing too many opportunities to come right back and immediately blast obama.

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  9. LAPhilComment by LAPhil
    July 6, 2012 @ 11:55 am

    Does anyone know how the mandate was enforced under Romneycare?

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    • genesalComment by genesal
      July 6, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

      Among its many effects, the law and its amendments established an independent public authority, the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, also known as the Health Connector. Among other roles, the Connector acts as an insurance broker to offer private insurance plans to residents. The reform legislation also included tax penalties on residents for failing to obtain an insurance plan and tax penalties on employers for failing to offer an insurance plan to employees. In 2007 Massachusetts tax filers who failed to enroll in a health insurance plan which was deemed affordable for them lost the $219 personal exemption on their income tax. Beginning in 2008, the penalty became pegged to 50% of the lowest monthly premium for insurance available from the Connector Authority

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    • LAPhilComment by LAPhil
      July 6, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

      genesal, I am impressed! Are you from Massachusetts?

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    • genesalComment by genesal
      July 6, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

      Thanks, no I grew up in California. So like the book says, I’m a man without a country (for all practical purposes) and without a state, to boot.

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    • LAPhilComment by LAPhil
      July 6, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

      Well, thank YOU. You knew pretty much every detail of that answer. May I ask what part of California you grew up in?

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    • genesalComment by genesal
      July 6, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

      The Gay Area.

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    • LAPhilComment by LAPhil
      July 6, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

      I see. I lived on the Peninsula for 19 years before moving to L.A. Not quite as insane there as San Francisco, which is totally out of control.

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  10. billsComment by bills
    July 6, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

    The constant harping about the Massachusetts Health care plan and Mitt Romney’s involvement is constantly being pushed. Unlike a politician he accepted responsibility for its less than stellar success, has identified the problems and has used his learning to explain how he will deal with Obamacare if he is elected President.

    Successful politicians grab an idea based upon ideology, pandering to potential voters or to pay off supporters and donors. They then take taxpayers money to implement. If it fails, they will most often double down or try and hide their failures. They never take responsibility for failure. If needed, the will find a scapegoat to blame.

    We need a solid proven business person in the Whitehouse to use the discipline of strategic, business and fiscal planning and to employ a “zero-based budgeting” strategy to deal with the debt and the bloated bureaucracy in the federal government not just one more disgraced politician.

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  11. Jim ForsytheComment by Jim Forsythe
    July 6, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

    Apparently, Obama is whining about Justice Roberts’ finding that the Obamacare tax is a tax. Surprise: A tax collected by the IRS is a tax! Now he is blaming Romney because the Court found that the Obamatax was a tax.

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  12. moonshineComment by moonshine
    July 6, 2012 @ 5:52 pm

    Now that the SCOTUS had declared OBAMACARE as a personal Tax (in lieu of a mandate) does that disqualify all of the many exemptions that were given to Democratic contributors such as Unions, Green Companies, Religions, etc.
    If so, I suspect that no one (not even these liberal Democrats) or the Senate will support it.
    Please advise ASAP.

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    • LAPhilComment by LAPhil
      July 6, 2012 @ 7:33 pm

      That is a really good question. I wish I had the answer, but I’m sure someone out there more educated than I am will have it.

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  13. slickzipComment by slickzip
    July 6, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

    If Mitt Romney does not stop acting like a boyscout helping a little lady across the street and start slapping ODUMBA in the face he will let that piece of hog **** steal the election again and go down in history as the man who fiddled while the UNITED STATES BURNED !

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  14. JDZComment by JDZ
    July 6, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

    It is a valid comment that the Republicans running for office, especially Romney, have to get past this idea that this is a normal election against “normal” competition, because it is not. This is a FIGHT…a fight to save our country from becoming another “me too” run of the mill socialist country with a much lower standard of living then we are used to in this country. The Obama machine is stacked with special interest and socialist activists groups who are well funded and who see a once in a lifetime opportunity to take over this country, and they will say or do anything they can get away with to have their way with us. If Romney thinks playing by the “Queen’s Rules” is how this is going to go down, he is going to get his butt kicked.

    McCain refused to expose the radical background of Obama in 2008 and let him off of the hook, and what did it get him…nothing, and Obama treated McCain later, after the elections, very disrespectfully. Obama would throw his Mother under the bus if it would help him get re-elected, as he is trained to bend the rules as necessary to win, including blatantly lying to the public, bevause he knows he can get away with it.

    Romney has to sharpen his knives and expect hand to hand combat at some level, and know, that we have his back regardless of what happens. That is why many love Newt Gingrich. He isn’t afraid to mix it up if necessary.

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  15. joelinpdxComment by joelinpdx
    July 6, 2012 @ 7:56 pm

    Romney needs to reorganize his media staff and reorganize “Etch-a-Sketch” Ferhnstrom out of a job.

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  16. griffin371Comment by griffin371
    July 6, 2012 @ 8:04 pm

    All that Romney needs to do is tell the American public that Romneycare was a mistake and that it didn’t work.Then tell the people that he has the experience from years of hands on governing that he has made mistakes and he knows from that time what works and what doesn’t.And that Obama has been a “on the job training President who does not learn by his mistakes and never will!This will be his “i won’t hold your age against you moment that got the great Ronald Reagan elected”Mr romney also needs to speak with more passion.That is the only thing Obama has over him now is passion.

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