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Debating Health Care: When I Screamed Loudest At The TV

Pretty much everyone agrees that Romney’s aggressive performance during last night’s debate is the story of the day. As The New York Times’ Tim Egan put it: “Romney was loaded with the Mormon equivalent of Red Bull, and it showed.” (That aggression may be undermined by the army of fact-checkers questioning some of Romney’s assertions, but that’s another story.)

What it will mean for the nation (and for health care) remains unclear. But here, in an admittedly partisan assessment, is the Harvard School of Public Health’s Nancy Turnbull on, among other things, when she yelled loudest at the TV and when her frustration levels peaked:

My top 5 health care moments in the debate:

1. Most frustrating discussion
President Obama did not effectively counter Governor Romney’s untrue claim that federal health reform is being financed in part by robbing $716 billion from the Medicare Trust Fund (including failing to point out that that the budget plan of Governor Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, has the same reductions in future Medicare rates for hospitals, health plans and certain other providers). This one is complicated but the President has to have a comprehensible and effective way to rebut it.

2. Ingenue performance
Governor Romney was coy, to be polite, about his support for a Medicare voucher system, and Jim Lehrer was far too polite in his attempts to get Governor Romney to be more forthright. I wished Martha Bebinger had been moderating.

3. Go Bay State
Massachusetts provided one of the few points of agreement all night: Both candidates said that health coverage reform in Massachusetts has been a great success.

4. Moment when I screamed loudest at the TV
Governor Romney claimed that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 20 million Americans will lose their health insurance if federal reform is implemented. The CBO estimate is actually that 32 million more Americans will have health insurance.

5. Biggest foreign policy gaffe of the night
Governor Romney’s lack of experience and knowledge in foreign affairs was apparent when he said that “America has the best health care record in the world.”

Here, if you’re still in the mood, is the full debate transcript on ObamaCare, courtesy Kaiser Health News.
Please add your own top moments and we’ll post them throughout the day.

Health Reformer’s Red Past Revealed!

Harvard professor and author John E. McDonough

Help! I seem to have entered a time warp to the McCarthy era! Or maybe a wormhole back into the Cold War!

Some sort of Red Scare nightmare? No, I’m just in a state of bafflement after reading “The Socialist Behind Romneycare.” Posted by the right-wing group Accuracy in Academia, it targets Harvard School of Public Health professor John McDonough, who was involved in building both Massachusetts and national health reform and is the author of “Inside National Health Reform.” (Also, these days, the Health Stew blogger for the Boston Globe.) The post reveals that (gasp!) more than thirty years ago, McDonough belonged to the Democratic Socialists of America and chaired its Boston chapter for a couple of years.

The post cites work by blogger and Communist-outer Trevor Loudon: “Loudon’s new report, which is potentially embarrassing to Mitt Romney as he tries to prove his conservative credentials, is headlined, “How DSA Marxists Influenced Health Policies for Both Major Presidential Candidates.”

Now, I know that living in Massachusetts distorts my vision and leaves me insensitive to the realities of national politics, and I know that I should never try to find true logic in political game-playing. But I can’t help asking: Could anybody, anywhere, really care anymore if a politician or a professor — or a health care reformer — once propounded socialism? The Cold War is over, Communism couldn’t be deader, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?” has become synonymous with McCarthy-era abuses. And if Mitt Romney praises the Israeli health system, is it some sign of pernicious socialist leanings that in his latest blog post, McDonough praises the French?

Daily Telegraph: Pivotal Romney Moment? Son’s Cancer Scare In Britain

2006 Romneycare handshake

In this April 12, 2006, file photo, then-Gov. Mitt Romney is seen with lawmakers and staffers after signing the state’s universal health coverage law at Faneuil Hall in Boston. (AP File)

Yes, if British doctors tell you that your son may have colon cancer but will have to wait six weeks for a colonoscopy, I can see how you might develop even more of an antipathy toward government involvement in health care.

The Daily Telegraph has the full yarn here, in advance of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s trip to England tomorrow.

It has some nice details of the no-frills, moldy-flat life Romney’s third son, Josh, lived in England while he was a Mormon missionary there in 1995. The medical story: A doctor in Sheffield told Josh his stomach problem might be colon cancer. (Though if you read the full story, you might diagnose it as colon blockage caused by eating too much cheap beef.)

Even worse, Mitt Romney later recalled, “the waiting time for a colonoscopy was six weeks – enough time to make an operable, curable cancer become an inoperable terminal condition”.

The family was appalled. “It was scary,” Josh, now a 36-year-old property developer in Utah, told The Daily Telegraph while campaigning with his father in Florida. “I am in favour of you reforming your health care system,” he joked. Continue reading

Happy Birthday Health Law (With Cake For Romney)


Sometimes a birthday is more than just a birthday. Just ask Mitt Romney.

On the 6th anniversary of the signing of the Massachusetts health reform law, Gov. Deval Patrick (who also serves as a co-chairman of President Obama’s re-election campaign) took the opportunity to stick it to the likely GOP presidential nominee in remarks at Fanueuil Hall yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reports. There was even talk by national health law advocates of sending Romney (who signed the state health law on April 12, 2006 when he was governor of Massachusetts) a delicious gift to mark to occasion.

“I think he has a lot to be proud of, he contributed ideas, the individual mandate was one of them…why not be proud?” said Gov. Deval Patrick, a co-chair of President Barack Obama’s national re-election committee, referring to Mr. Romney’s support for the state’s requirement that individuals purchase insurance or pay a fee…

The event underscored how Democrats are trying to turn Mr. Romney’s health-insurance expansion into a political liability as he looks toward the general election. Activists who support the federal health law will delivery grocery-store-bought sheet “birthday” cakes with six candles in honor of the Massachusetts health law to two of Mr. Romney’s campaign stops in Pennsylvania on Thursday, said Eddie Vale, a spokesman for the Protect Your Care coalition of campaigners.

To underscore the politics of the day, here’s video from the folks at

For a bit more substance, see The Washington Post’s Wonkblog on “Charts: Six Ways RomneyCare Changed Massachusetts.”

Dems: Romney Did Not Fight Contraception Mandate In Mass.

Breaking News Update: The New York Times reports: “Obama Administration Plans to Offer ‘Accommodation’ on Birth Control Rule, Officials Say.”

Leading Democrats in Massachusetts are pointing to contraception as the latest example of a flip flop from former Governor Mitt Romney.

Contraception, with an exemption for churches, became a required benefit in Massachusetts in 2002, the year before Mitt Romney was sworn in as governor. Phil Johnston, who held top state health care and Democratic party positions, says Mitt Romney never tried to repeal the mandate.  “He never mentioned that it would infringe upon religious freedoms and during the four years that Governor Romney served, he was totally silent on that issue.”

Romney aides say his original health coverage bill proposed eliminating all insurance mandates for individuals and small businesses covered through what would become the Health Connector. Since most large businesses are self-insured, and thus not subject to state mandates, these aides say Romney planned to remove mandates for most residents.

Former Health Care for All director John McDonough echoes Johnston’s recollection that Governor Romney never singled out contraception as an objectionable mandate. “The poster child for bad mandates,” remembers McDonough, “was in vitro fertilization, because it is so expensive.” Continue reading

Beyond New Hampshire: GOP Candidates On Global Health

Granted, it’s extremely unlikely that a single vote will be cast in today’s New Hampshire primary based on the GOP presidential candidates’ positions on global health.

Still, an Indiana law professor, David Fidler, dug up a couple of telling nuggets that give a tiny glimpse into what these guys are all about, or at least what Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney think about overseas aid. In a nutshell: Romney doesn’t think much of it, and Santorum aligns himself with the old-Bush-style compassionate conservatism that supports humanitarian assistance. Fidler writes:

Romney and Santorum perhaps represent two streams in American conservatism that, at the moment, appear to diverge on PEPFAR [the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] and global health. Santorum expressly declares in his “10 Steps to Promote Our Interests Around the World“ that the US must “keep and expand” its humanitarian aid efforts, including on HIV/AIDS. Santorum strongly supported PEPFAR when he served in Congress. He also issued a statement on World AIDS Day in December 2011 underscoring PEPFAR’s importance and the “hope that in our lifetime, we may see the end of AIDS.” In Santorum, we see a conservatism embracing global health’s foreign policy importance to American ideals and interests—what Michael Gerson called “Rick Santorum and the return of compassionate conservatism.” Continue reading

Mitt Romney And Mass. Health Care: The Inside Back-Story

Mitt Romney’s role in Massachusetts health reform is not just a political football, it’s a political ping-pong ball: various versions bounce crazily from side to side, so contentious that they trigger official fact-checks and name-calling of the “pants-on-fire” variety.

When facts are in such dispute, who you gonna trust? I don’t know about you, but number one on my list is WBUR’s Martha Bebinger, a longtime, dispassionate and shockingly well-versed observer of the labyrinthine process of the state’s health reform. So it’s a special treat that she’s out today with an authoritative, and surprisingly colorful (who knew that “Animal House” was involved?) version of Mitt Romney’s leadership role in the landmark 2006 health reform.

WBUR's Martha Bebinger

It’s featured on here, but you can also read it below, and for skimmers, here’s the final paragraph and something of a bottom line:

How much credit Romney deserves for the law that some now call Romneycare is still up for debate. Speaker DiMasi is often seen as the key player in sealing the deal. He’s in prison now for an unrelated conspiracy and fraud conviction. Senate President Travaglini had the first public proposal. Romney was the first to propose key parts of what became law, the Connector, the individual mandate and subsidized insurance. A folder representing the health care law rests on a table next to Romney in his official State House portrait. It remains his signature accomplishment and the best way to evaluate how Romney works as a lawmaker.

By Martha Bebinger

BOSTON — The issue that defines Mitt Romney’s years as governor of Massachusetts is health care. It is sometimes a political albatross for the governor as he campaigns for president. But it is also proof, Romney says, that he could bridge party divisions in Washington.

Health care was rising on Governor Romney’s agenda as he moved into the State House corner office in 2003. His friend Tom Stemberg, who founded Staples, had suggested that one of the best things he could do for the people of Massachusetts was to find a way to cover the uninsured. And Romney, in his second month on the job, talked about that interminable state budget buster, health care. Continue reading

Is A 2012 Supreme Court Decision On The Health Law Bad For Romney?

President Obama has always performed well when things are bleak — but things haven’t looked this bleak for a long, long time.

David Brooks, in The New York Times this week, wrote of “settling into the idea that Romney might well be president.” A Gallup poll out yesterday found half of Americans say Obama and Congress are doing a worse job than their predecessors.

But wait, might the national health law save the day for the president by sinking the GOP frontrunner?

Here’s The Wall Street Journal politics blog suggesting that the White House is going all out to evoke Romney’s fraught connection with the health law whenever possible. (This issue, overall, is bad for Romney, who has a love-hate relationship with its central tenet: He supports the individual mandate at the core of the Massachusetts health law, but says the national health law, which is modeled on the state law, should be repealed.)

Here’s the WSJ, citing an example of the administration’s gentle reminder to health-law hating Republicans that Romney supported an earlier version of a similar law: Continue reading

Mitt Romney: Then And Now

Romney: In 2006, he signed the state's health insurance law. Today he plans to announce he's running for president.

Later today at a farm in Stratham, New Hampshire, Mitt Romney plans to announce he’s running for president, again.

Five years ago, in Boston, Romney signed into law Massachusetts’ landmark health reform legislation requiring every citizen in the state buy health insurance. And that, as we’ve heard, is both his signature achievement and, potentially, his most devastating political baggage.

In its inimitable way, The New Yorker lays out Romney’s conundrum better than anyone else. In the current issue, Ryan Lizza opens his story with a familiar scene: Romney at an elaborate bill-signing ceremony at Faneuil Hall. But he embellishes the portrait of the Governor with perfect detail. (The full story is behind a pay wall now, but here’s a taste):

Romney signed the bill at a wooden desk using fourteen different pens, which he later distributed to the dignitaries on hand. “It’s law!” he shouted after the final stroke. On cue, the sounds of the fife-and-drum corps filled the hall with Colonial-era music. Behind Romney stood the people most responsible for passing the plan, among them Senator Ted Kennedy and Salvatore DiMasi, the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. In one photograph, the Governor is looking over his shoulder at DiMasi, laughing, and Kennedy is smiling at Romney. Kennedy died in 2009, and DiMasi is currently on trial for extortion and corruption and may go to jail. Romney, who did not seek reelection in 2006, is running for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination. Early this spring, as his campaign was foundering, a morbid joke about the photo circulated among Massachusetts political insiders: “The funny thing about that picture is that there’s three dead men, but only one is in the ground.”

Mitt Romney On Health Care — Comments Welcome!

New England Cable News just aired Mitt Romney’s speech on health care live, and we live-streamed the NECN feed. If you watched, what did you think? Please share the inimitably intelligent comments characteristic of CommonHealth readers below. Here’s my pick for strongest quote:

“I’m proud of the fact that in our state, when we faced real challenges, we didn’t just say, ‘Well, it’s a problem that no one can solve.’ We said, ‘We’ve got a job to do. We need to help people, we need to do our best.’ By the way, what we did wasn’t perfect… but overall, am I proud of the fact that we did our best for our people and we got people insured? Absolutely!”

Here’s the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein on Romney’s plan. And here’s The Wall Street Journal from this morning, writing about “the failure of the ObamaCare model that began in Massachusetts.”