New Yorker: ‘Beware Of Romneycare’ Sums Up Candidate Contrast On Health Care

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (AP)

When the New Yorker headlines this week’s financial column “Beware of Romneycare,” it’s not referring to the Massachusetts version, the near-universal health coverage that then-Gov. Mitt Romney helped usher in. It’s referring to the current Romney, who has made clear that if elected president, he will work to repeal the federal version of health reform, Obamacare.

Now, The New Yorker just endorsed Obama for president, so that may color your view of its columns. But the ever-excellent economics writer James Surowiecki does lay out with beautiful clarity the stakes of the coming election: “Health care is where the election’s outcome will have the most immediate and powerful impact on how Americans live,” he writes. And he zeroes in on the essence of the difference between the candidates:

‘It’s like saving on defense by protecting only two-thirds of the country’

“The premise of Obamacare is that healthcare is a collective good, like national defense, something that government has to help provide,” he writes.

In contrast, he writes, what Romney wants…

…”is just to have the government less involved in health care. Insofar as his plans would lower federal health-care spending, it’s not because of the power of the free market; it’s because a Romney administration would simply have the government do less. Romney would eliminate the Obamacare subsidies for health insurance. He would turn Medicaid into a block grant to the states and trim its annual budget, with the result that its funding woudl lag behind the rise in health-care costs. And if he adopts his running mate Paul Ryan’s premium-support plan for Medicare, he would make Medicare recipients pay higher premiums. With these changes, the government would spend less, but only because it would provide less, and Americans would get less. It’s like saving on defense by protecting only two-thirds of the country”

Ultimately, he writes:

“The real issue, come November, isn’t about who has the best ideas for controlling health-care costs. It’s about who has the right idea about what government should do.”

The full piece is very worth a read; it also includes a succinct history of the thinking on why the free market doesn’t work well in health care.

Politico: Mass. Democrats Stump For ‘Romneycare’ In Nevada


A shadow is cast as a stand-in for President Barack Obama speaks at the podium during a rehearsal for a debate at the University of Denver. (AP)

Politico’s “Pulse” bulletin reports:

MASS. DEMS DISPATCHED TO TALK UP ‘ROMNEYCARE’ – You know how we said yesterday that no one’s really talking about the flaws in Mitt Romney’s 2006 health care law? We offer our latest exhibit: Two Massachusetts Democrats, at the urging of the Obama campaign, are dropping into Nevada this week to talk up the law that eventually gave rise to the ACA. Massachusetts House Majority Leader Ron Mariano and State Rep. Steven Walsh will visit the Silver State tomorrow and Thursday to contrast Romney’s work on the state law with his promise to repeal “Obamacare” and boost insurers’ involvement in Medicare. The POLITICO Pro story:

Politico Pro requires a subscription, but Politico’s “Pulse” bulletin offers a bit more free fun: Its staffers write that “we’ve been pondering a health care-themed drinking game for [tonight’s] presidential debate. But we also want to make sure there’s a Thursday morning PULSE, so … we’ll take a rain check.”

Hmmm. A health care-themed debate game for tonight?? NBC news has a fascinating analysis here that finds that health care is the biggest issue of the campaign. Should we maybe all do ten sit-ups whenever “care” is used as a suffix to a candidate’s name? Nah, too virtuous. Does anyone have a better suggestion?

Faneuil Hall Celebration Of Mass. Health Reform Turning Six

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)

Anniversaries are not really news, and I’d happily let the sixth anniversary of Massachusetts health reform pass unremarked — really, is there that much more to be said on the topic now than there was last year? Except that the reform’s political resonance is more national and more important than ever in this pre-election season. WBUR’s Ben Swasey writes here about Gov. Deval Patrick’s ceremony today marking the anniversary — at that very same Faneuil Hall where the 2006 reform was signed, but with a very different cast of characters. He writes:

It’s not hard to see some political calculus involved in today’s ceremony. Patrick, the AP notes, is a co-chair of Obama’s re-election campaign. Romney, who is increasingly likely to be Obama’s challenger in the general election, has faced some GOP criticism for his support of the Massachusetts law, while also pledging to repeal the national law if elected president.

WBUR’s intrepid political reporter Fred Thys attended the celebration and reports:

Governor Deval Patrick is heaping praise upon former Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for signing Massachusetts’ health care law. Patrick is working to re-elect President Obama, and the remarks help give weight to the fears that many Republicans have about Romney.

It was only yesterday that Mitt Romney finally managed to eliminate his principal rival in the race for the Republican nominaiton, Rick Santorum. Many of the conservative Republicans who supported Santorum distrust Romney because he’s responsible for the requirement that everyone in Massachusetts buy health insurance. This afternoon, speaking through a poor sound system at Faneuil Hall, where Romney signed the Massachusetts health care law 6 years ago, Deval Patrick reminded everyone of that fact. Continue reading

Poll: Mass. Health Reform, Trashed By Others, Supported By Residents

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports:

BOSTON — Across the national airwaves and on the Republican campaign trail, the Massachusetts coverage law that many now call “Romneycare” is routinely trashed. Here’s Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a debate last October:

“Romneycare has driven the cost of small business insurance premiums up by 14 percent over the national average in Massachusetts.”

And from former Sen. Rick Santorum last month we heard, “it (Romneycare) was the basis of Obamacare and it was an abject failure.”

So you might think this drubbing would rub off on Massachusetts residents, about two-thirds of whom have consistently endorsed the state’s coverage plan since it passed in 2006. Not so. In the latest WBUR poll, 62 percent support the law and 33 percent oppose it.

Read the full WBUR report here.

Huge Similarities Between ObamaCare And RomneyCare, Group Finds

Many people focus on the “individual mandate” (the requirement that folks must purchase health insurance) as the chief similarity between the 2006 health reform law passed in Massachusetts under then-Gov. Mitt Romney, and the 2010 national health law signed by President Obama. But the similarities between RomneyCare and ObamaCare go far, far beyond that, according to a new side-by-side analysis by the liberal-leaning nonprofit advocacy organization, Families USA (with help from Harvard School of Public Health’s John McDonough and Brian Rosman, Research Director of Health Care For All).

From insurance exchanges to new rules for insurers and employers and beyond, the two plans really do have a deep twin-like resemblance according to this analysis, if not identical, then at least fraternal. 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

Video Debate: Is RomneyCare Really The Parent Of ObamaCare?

Tonight is going to be all candy, so let’s start the week with a few vegetables, as we sometimes refer to our health policy posts. Not that the above video is lima-bean-like; it’s a lively — though civil — Republican-Democrat debate about whether it’s fair to consider Massachusetts health reform as the “parent” of the federal health overhaul.

As CommonWealth magazine executive editor Michael Jonas introduces it:

We recently launched a new video feature on CommonWealth’s website involving webcam-based discussions between two people. I thought our most recent installment of “Face to Face” might be of interest to you and CommonHealth readers: a discussion of “Romney” and “Obamacare” between two of the people best qualified to chew over the issue that dogs Romney’s campaign perhaps more than any single topic.

Talking over the issue are Tim Murphy, who was Romney’s secretary of health and human services and the administration point-man on the 2006 Massachusetts law, and John McDonough, who was in the thick of the 2006 reform as director of Health Care for All and then went on to serve as senior policy adviser to Ted Kennedy’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where early work on the federal law took place.

Why Romneycare Is No ‘Dead Hooker,’ Even With The Latest Doctor Wait Times

I was watching Bill Maher interview Gov. Deval Patrick the other night, and one of his questions made me shout with laughter. Why oh why, he asked, does former Gov. Mitt Romney act as if being linked to the Massachusetts health reform he helped put into place is such a political liability it’s like “being chained to a dead hooker?”

The “dead hooker issue” is particularly germane today for two reasons: Romney is scheduled to give a major speech today in Michigan about health care (See today’s sage report by WBUR’s Fred Thys on how the issue is playing in New Hampshire.) And the Massachusetts Medical Society has just put out its latest survey results on how long patients here must wait to see doctors. Opponents of Romneycare-style health reform are spinning the slight lengthening in wait times as further proof that the reform is bad here, and will be worse nationally.

But in The New Republic, senior editor Jonathan Cohn writes here in a piece titled “Defending Romneycare (because Romney won’t do it)” that he sees quite a different spin.

…The report tells a far more complicated story, one that may not have much (if anything) to do with health care reform. And since Romney himself isn’t making this case–I assume he just wishes the whole topic would go away–let me give it a shot.

While the long waits for physician services in Massachusetts seem real enough, the very same survey reveals that the long waits existed before Romney’s law took effect in January, 2007.

He shares some graphs of gastroenterology and internal medicine wait times, and says:

Reported wait times go up and down, year to year, which is precisely the sort of statistical noise you’d expect from a survey that relies on small samples size and the non-scientific testimony from physicians. Evidence of longer waiting times since the introduction of Romney’s plan seems thin, at best.

Elsewhere, it appears that primary care physicians (although not specialists) are becoming less likely to see new patients. And that’s certainly worrisome. But that decay was also underway before the Massachusetts reforms: It doesn’t appear to have accelerated starting in 2007.

His bottom line: Continue reading

HuffPo Readers Comment Copiously On MA Health Reform

Wow. Just in case you were wondering whether the rest of the country is really watching and debating  Massachusetts health reform, consider the 1,400 comments — 1,400!! — that have rolled in below this Huffington Post story posted yesterday.

The post opens:

WASHINGTON — Five years after Mitt Romney signed a landmark health care law that paved the way for President Obama’s controversial national reform, an unscientific survey of Massachusetts HuffPost readers found widespread satisfaction with the state’s health insurance coverage.

Responses from more than 50 current or former Massachusetts residents asked by HuffPost about their experiences confirms a recent poll that shows a large majority of Bay State residents like “RomneyCare.”

The piece gets it salt from Romney’s recent attempts to publicly distance himself from the landmark 2006 Massachusetts health reform that he helped bring in. But I found most interesting the plethora of vignettes it gathered from Massachusetts residents of all stripes, most of them praising the effects of the reform but several pointing out its shortcomings. There’s more of the same in the hundreds of comments, too, including a patient who went bankrupt because of a major operation here. An excerpt:

“The Massachusetts health plan was life-saving in many ways and we were, and are, exceedingly grateful for it. We couldn’t believe a Republican designed it!” she wrote. “It enabled my husband to have many years (of) overdue blood work, and also hearing aids that have changed his life. This is not even a benefit on most so-called standard health plans. It also enabled me to receive dental care at much reduced costs.” (Huffington Post)

RomneyCare Revisionism Roundup

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney

Massachusetts is not like Las Vegas. What happens here doesn’t stay here. Instead, it gets turned into fodder for the national fight over health care reform — to which people bring not only their own opinions but their own facts.

Some notable salvos already this week: We posted Monday here about’s reality check on various claims about Massachusetts health reform. Dennis Byron, our highly numerate reader and a health statistics blogger in his own right, responded that itself needs some fact-checking:

I found 30 errors and they all seem to be in favor of the proponents of Romneycare. When you add that to the fact that the so-called “non-partisan” author from only talked to proponents and only cites proponents and did not talk to people at Cato, or Sally Pipes, or Trudy Liemberman, etc., it’s hard to call this a non-partisan look at the facts and falsehoods of Romneycare.

Among my list of 30 errors, the one that needs constant correcting is the statement that

“The truth about premiums is that they’ve gone down for those who buy their own insurance (in what had been the so-called “individual market’)… “as much as 40%.”

As Politifacts says, “pants on fire” not true (I like that line even though Politifacts is as lefty as

And more on health reform history: The Washington Post’s “Right Turn” blog ran an interview with MIT’s Jon Gruber on the origins of RomneyCare. Blogger Jennifer Rubin begins:

It is “sad,” says MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is running away from his Massachusetts health care plan, a plan that Gruber says “gave birth to one of the greatest pieces of social legislation in our history,” namely President Obama’s 2010 health-care reform legislation. Aside from Romney, Gruber is the man most responsible for the Massachusetts plan. And given how important the debate is over the ‘Cares — RomneyCare and ObamaCare, as they’re often dubbed — I decided to go to the man who perhaps knows more than anyone about the development of both.

In a candid phone interview, Gruber explained how RomneyCare came about, where he thinks the critics have it wrong and whether potential “defenses” against his own plan by the Republican 2012 frontrunner hold up to scrutiny.