Commentary Magazine


ObamaCare Bedevils Romney

Mitt Romney is the most experienced presidential candidate of the 2012 aspirants, having slogged through the 2008 primary and pre-primary campaigns. He has written a book and developed an easier, less stilted demeanor and public persona. He speaks authoritatively on foreign policy. But he has a big problem: ObamaCare looks a good deal like the ex-governor’s RomneyCare, his signature health-care legislation. A former advisor and MIT economist Jonathan Gruber remarks: “If any one person in the world deserves credit for where we are now (with the passage of the new federal law) it’s Mitt Romney.” Yikes.

Romney’s plan includes mandatory insurance for individuals — an anathema to conservatives. And the plan faces hard realities, which conservatives predict will befall ObamaCare too. The Wall Street Journal editors explain:

Three of largest four — Blue Cross Blue Shield, Tufts Health Plan and Fallon Community Health — posted operating losses in 2009. In an emergency suit heard in Boston superior court yesterday, they argued that the arbitrary rate cap will result in another $100 million in collective losses this year and make it impossible to pay the anticipated cost of claims. It may even threaten the near-term solvency of some companies.

So until the matter is resolved, the insurers have simply stopped selling new policies. A court decision is expected by Monday, but state officials have demanded that the insurers — under the threat of fines and other regulatory punishments — resume offering quotes by today and to revert to year-old base premiums. Let that one sink in: Mr. Patrick has made the health insurance business so painful the government actually has to order private companies to sell their products (albeit at sub-market costs). . . .

On top of that, like ObamaCare, integral to the Massachusetts overhaul are mandates that require insurers to cover anyone who applies regardless of health status or pre-existing conditions and to charge everyone about the same rates. This allows people to wait until they’re about to incur major medical expenses before buying insurance and transfer the costs to everyone else. This week Blue Cross Blue Shield reported a big uptick in short-term customers who ran up costs more than four times the average, only to drop the coverage within three months.

Romney cites the differences between the bills — his contained no massive tax hike and didn’t savage Medicare. Mostly, he’s focused on the Tenth Amendment — the argument that the federal government shouldn’t and can’t constitutionally occupy the health-care field, which has been subject to state regulation. It’s far from clear that this will be enough to satisfy the Republican primary electorate, which is going to hear Romney’s opponents attack him for passing ObamaCare-lite. They likely will be proposing market-based plans akin to those which the GOP proposed in Congress. But for whatever reason — perhaps concern about reviving the flip-flop label — Romney isn’t disowning his past effort and he’ll have to withstand the onslaught if he’s going to do better than second place this time around. Every candidate has handicaps but in an election in which the Republicans are trying to elect a president to rip out ObamaCare before it takes root, Romney will have his work cut out for him, living down what was once a selling point for his candidacy.