In a January debate, Rick Santorum took direct aim at Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare law. At the podium, he lit up the former governor’s bill in front of an audience salivating for fireworks.
Romneycare, he said, was “pretty much a model for what Obamacare is going to look like: the highest health care costs in the country, 27 percent above the average.” It was nothing less than a small-scale, state-sized socialist takeover of medicine. How could a candidate claiming to be a conservative defend that in the general election?
“First of all, it’s not worth getting angry about,” Romney retorted. His law and the President’s have some significant differences. On the stage, he counter-punched. “Look, I know you don’t like the plan that we had,” he said. “I don’t like the Obama plan. His plan cuts Medicare by $500 billion. We didn’t, of course, touch anything like that. He raises taxes by $500 billion. We didn’t do that.”
“If I’m president of the United States, I will stop [Obamacare]. And in debating Barack Obama… I will be able to point out that what he did was wrong.”
He will, of course, because there are a lot of other things that set the President’s plan apart from the one Romney authored in Massachusetts.
For starters, Romney’s bill was only 70 pages in length – Obama’s bill was 2,074 pages long, not counting the title page. Did he even read it before he signed it? Probably not. Even the great Nancy Pelosi conceded that “we have to pass it so we can find out what’s in it.” By comparison, the average Bible is a short novella – a brisk 1500 page read cover-to-cover. And if understanding all the commandments of the Two Testaments seems like a daunting challenge, deciphering the demands of the ACA is like trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle.
In adherence to Biblical tradition, Obama’s bill also calls for taxpayers to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s – namely, to pay more taxes. In addition to the individual mandate (ruled a tax by the Supreme Court), Obamacare also includes several hidden taxes that most Americans didn’t find out about until after the bill passed. Among them:
- A new tax on charitable hospitals – $50,000 per hospital if they don’t expand coverage
- Over $123 billion in new investment taxes
- A $5 billion “medicine cabinet” tax on health savings accounts
- A new $22 billion tax on drug companies
- An $86 billion payroll tax hike
- A tax on bio-fuels worth more than $23 billion
Romney’s is plan does not increase taxes. In fact, its own mandate isn’t even a tax. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare also clarified that states may use powers besides taxation to impose penalties on consumers. So Obama’s mandate is a tax, but Romney’s is a penalty. Seem arbitrary?
It looks on the surface to be nothing more than semantics, but here’s the rub: Romney sold his bill as a penalty – and he was right. Obama sold his bill as penalty – and it was actually a tax.
Would more or fewer Democrats have supported Obamacare knowing it was a tax? Would more or fewer Americans have supported it? Would it have passed at all?
This highlights another difference between Obamacare and Romneycare – popularity. Law making, like prom court, is a big popularity contest. Generally, the more popular a law, the better it is. Pundits say this because popular laws encompass as many different competing interests as possible and thus represent the “will of the people.” If a law’s unpopular, that logic leads to the opposite conclusion. Obamacare was (and is) pretty unpopular – only 44% of Americans want to keep the law intact. Romneycare was (and is) extremely popular – more than 82% of Bay Staters want to keep Romneycare intact. In other words, if Romney’s the lunch lady who cooked the gross tofu lunch in the cafeteria, Obama’s the bully who shoves it down the throats of those poor kids just trying to study. It’s really no surprise they wanted to throw it up afterwards.
But why is Romneycare so popular in Massachusetts, and Obamacare so unpopular in the US as a whole?
The answer lies in Mitt Romney’s most common – and most effective – rebuttal to critics who call him a hypocrite on the healthcare issue. Romneycare represented a state solution to a state problem. These solutions don’t always translate well into national policy.
For example, Nebraska immigration laws wouldn’t be very effective in a border state like Texas or Arizona. In this instance, Obamacare fails to take into account big two key differences between the states. Some states have far more debt than others (Indiana has a $2 billion surplus; California is $265 billion in the red – possibly much more), and some states have way more uninsured patients to take into account. Discrepancies like these make finding a one-size-fits-all plan nearly impossible. Certainly, Obamacare doesn’t fit that bill.
In sum, Governor Romney was actually able to realize a longstanding Democratic dream – universal health insurance. However, Romney was able to pull it off at a state level – and he didn’t do it by misrepresenting it, raising taxes, cutting Medicare, or jamming it down the throats of his constituents. Maybe that’s why, 6 years later, his solution still remains so popular. But if you still don’t like things like the individual mandate, President Romney won’t make you use it. He’d let your state craft its own legislation – something our current President wouldn’t allow. He’d rather have your state create an individualized plan, not author a one-size-fits-all bill that, well, actually doesn’t fit at all.
There’s 104 days until the election. Vote right, and healthcare doesn’t have to be something “worth getting angry about” any longer. After all, health insurance is a good thing, isn’t it?