Grace-Marie Turner: 'Romneycare' should be an issue for Mitt

Published: Sunday, Nov. 6 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pushed a health-care plan as governor of Massachusetts that some criticize as too similar to the Affordable Care Act. (Associated Press) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pushed a health-care plan as governor of Massachusetts that some criticize as too similar to the Affordable Care Act. (Associated Press)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Opposition to the Affordable Care Act motivated millions of Americans to throw more than 60 Democrats out of Congress last November — largely because they had supported the health overhaul law.

Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell said voters saw the law's passage as a "crime against democracy" and they want it repealed.

A majority of Americans now oppose the federal health law, and only 18 percent think it will actually help them, according to an October Kaiser public opinion survey. Voters are seething as they learn more about its harmful impact on health costs, jobs and the ballooning deficit.

Romneycare is too similar to Obamacare for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to escape this voter anger.

Jonathan Gruber, who advised Romney in passing his universal coverage law, confirms the federal health law "is essentially based on what we accomplished in Massachusetts. It's the same basic structure applied nationally." President Barack Obama also says Massachusetts was his model.

While Romney insists the Affordable Care Act "is bad news" and must be repealed, even he gets confused about what he means. In the most recent Republican presidential debate, he said: "We all agree about repeal and replace. And I'm proud of the fact that I've put together a plan that says what I'm going to replace it with."

Does he really mean he sees Massachusetts as a model for his "replacement" plan even as he insists it's not?

When challenged by his fellow candidates, the usually unflappable Romney stumbled. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum hit Romney over costs. "What you did is exactly what Barack Obama did: focused on the wrong problem. ... You expanded the pool of insurance without controlling costs. You've blown a hole in the budget up there. And you authored in Obamacare, which is going to blow a hole in the budget of this country."

Romney acknowledged "I didn't get the job done in Massachusetts in getting the health-care costs down," but added it's "something I think we have got to do at the national level. I intend to do that."

Health costs in Massachusetts are higher than in any other state: Health spending is rising 15 percent faster than the national average. Economists from Stanford and Columbia Universities have estimated that the state health-care law was responsible for hiking premiums by as much as 6 percent.

But perhaps the biggest stumbling block for Romney is his support of the individual mandate.

Romney continues to back himself into a corner with his staunch defense of the insurance mandate. He says: "We dealt with a challenge that we had — a lot of people that were expecting government to pay their way. And we said, you know what? If people have the capacity to care for themselves and pay their own way, they should."

So does he really support a mandate? It's still not clear.

Romneycare remains Romney's Achilles' heel. Without a clearer position, he will have trouble convincing Republican voters he is serious about repeal and will have an even harder time mapping a clear plan on health reform should he be elected president.

Grace-Marie Turner is president and founder of the Galen Institute, which is funded in part by the pharmaceutical and medical industries.

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