Opinion

The Great Debate

Secret emails show Romney’s approval of health mandate

By Nicholas Wapshott
June 8, 2012

If the U.S. Supreme Court decides later this month that President Obama’s healthcare plan is unconstitutional, most Republicans will be rejoicing. But none more so than Mitt Romney, who has made revoking the Affordable Care Act a principal plank of his platform. The Court will have saved him from having to explain an embarrassing batch of recently discovered confidential emails from the time he was governor of Massachusetts.

What opponents of the law that mandates every American buy private health insurance call “Obamacare” should more properly be called “Romneycare,” as the scheme Romney introduced in Massachusetts in 2006 is nearly identical to the one Obama introduced in 2010. Indeed, Romney’s plan is still in place and working well, and there is no groundswell in Massachusetts to abandon it. The president’s people, when drawing up their healthcare scheme, drew heavily on Romney’s experience. The fact that Senator Edward Kennedy approved of Romneycare and even agreed to be photographed with the governor when it passed into law gave the Obama camp an added incentive to follow in Romney’s footsteps.

To add to the ideological confusion surrounding Obama’s plan, Romney’s health scheme was inspired by Stuart M. Butler of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank. In the 1989 Heritage document “A National Health System for America,” Butler proposed that “every resident of the U.S. must, by law, be enrolled in an adequate health care plan to cover major health care costs.”

“Americans with sufficient means would no longer be able to be ‘free riders’ on society by avoiding sensible health insurance expenditures and relying on others to pay for care in an emergency or in retirement,” Butler wrote. “All households would be required to protect themselves from major medical costs by purchasing health insurance … The principle of mandatory family protection is central to a universal health care system in America.” If a family failed to enroll, “a fine might be imposed.”

The emails, which have just come to light after a public-records request by Wall Street Journal reporter Mark Maremont, show that Romney borrowed extensively from Butler’s recommendations, though the messages will confirm to conservatives and libertarians that Romney has little sympathy with their cause. “Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian,” Romney wrote in a 2006 article for a Journal op-ed he penned himself. The secret emails show Romney deleted the following line, perhaps for fear of offending the outliers in his party: “An uninsured libertarian might counter that he could refuse the free care, but under law, that is impossible – and inhumane.”

Romney was proud of his healthcare reforms, forged by working closely with and compromising with Democratic leaders in Massachusetts, and he used to herald them as the central feature of his legacy. “Quite a day!” he wrote to his finance secretary, Thomas Trimarco, on Apr. 12, 2006, when he signed the changes into law. “You have made a huge difference, for me and for hundreds of thousands of people who will have healthier and happier lives.” As a further slap to his conservative and libertarian base, the emails show how Romney was prepared to name and shame private companies that did not provide adequate health insurance for employees.

So, how do the new revelations tally with what Romney says today about Obama’s healthcare mandate? Now, he thinks “the transformation in American health care set in motion by Obamacare will take us in precisely the wrong direction … In place of Obamacare, Mitt will pursue policies that give each state the power to craft a health care reform plan that is best for its own citizens.” So what Romney thought was good enough for Massachusetts just six years ago he deems not good enough – or perhaps too good – for the rest of the nation today.

So, is Romney a flip-flopper or a hypocrite? Does he still think the Massachusetts plan has led to “healthier and happier lives”? Or does he now regret mandating that every citizen of his state buy health insurance? If the Supreme Court strikes down Obama’s universal healthcare laws, we may never find out.

Illustration by Elsa Jenna

Comments
22 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I had not thought of it…but if the Kangaroos do strikedown HCR (Obamacare….who makes this crap up?), and given it was modelled after the plan in Mass., would not citizens in Mass. therefore have their program scapped, as well? This will be comical.

Posted by krimsonpage | Report as abusive
 

So … if Obamacare is ruled unconstitutional, would Romneycare suffer the same fate?

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive
 

You are missing the point. States have the authority to establish healthcare, The Federal Government does not. All rights not expressely given to the Federal Government by the US Constatution belongs to the individual States. Romney care is constatutional, Obama care is not.

Posted by PRMull | Report as abusive
 

Despite the Heritage Foundation’s well reasoned argument for the mandate, we already know what Scalia thinks — the healthcare mandate is the same as forcing Americans to buy broccoli. And that would be unconstitutional, dammit! *Sigh* Is this what the SCOTUS has come to? This is the sort of immature reasoning I’d expect from my 11 year-old nephew.

Posted by IntoTheTardis | Report as abusive
 

Does Romney think Americans are stupid? We all know that he was all for Romneycare in Massachusetts, which seems to be working pretty well. And now he says he’s against Obamacare, which was patterned after Romneycare? Romney has got to be the most two-faced person alive — I’m surprised his face is not constantly red from embarrassment. Who in their right mind would vote for such an underhanded character?

Posted by Patricia68 | Report as abusive
 

Great to see that Romney’s not stupid, since the man just might win, given the state of the economy. He’s absolutely right. If the individual doesn’t pay for his or her own care, everyone else will have to pay for him — and that’s socialism, dude, whether you like it or not. If a libertarian gets hit by a car and is uninsured — even if he decides to die and refuse all care, and even if the bare minimum of care is needed to determine whether he is going to die — other people will pay for his or her problem, even if it’s just the cost of getting his body off the street. It’s nonsense to pretend that uninsured people can choose to cost the taxpayer nothing, and I’m frankly thrilled to see that the real Romney — the businessman — knows it.

Posted by From_California | Report as abusive
 

“would not citizens in Mass. therefore have their program scapped”

My understanding is that they case before the supreme court looks only to the “federal” requirements of the mandate. If a state imposes such a require, it would have to be judged by the state’s constitution. While it may not make sense, it is a different set of allowable controls. For example, a state can require car insurance, the Feds can’t.

Posted by t-velocity | Report as abusive
 

The people who write this kind of propaganda should be barred from the public forum.

“… the scheme Romney introduced in Massachusetts in 2006 is nearly identical to the one Obama introduced in 2010.”

“RomneyCare”: 70 pages
“ObamaCare”: 2700 pages

Maybe a few reruns of Sesame Street are in order, “One of these things is not like the other…”

Posted by Yankee1776 | Report as abusive
 

It is obvious that the majority of the people posting to this article do not understand the difference between federal and state law.

A state may pass a law that is Constitutionally barred for passage by the federal government.

What is “RomneyCare” comparable to? Automobile insurance. The federal government cannot pass a federal law requiring automobile insurance in the states. However, the states can pass a law requiring automobile insurance because the Constitution does not forbid a state from passing such a law.

For the record, “RomneyCare” is fiscally conservative legislation that places personal financial responsibility on the patient receiving treatment, just like automobile insurance places financial responsibility on the driver of an automobile who causes an accident.

Posted by Yankee1776 | Report as abusive
 

I fail to understand why Romney’s pursuit of health insurance reform is a “slap to…conservative and libertarian base”. Why is political debate framed like war rhetoric. Are libertarians and conservatives so devoid of common sense that they are not willing to explore new ideas? The media is doing the public a disservice by using such language. It is participating in, and effectively endorsing, the continued poisoning of political discourse in this country.

Posted by asrinath3 | Report as abusive
 

@ IntoTheTardis, that’s why I refer to Scalia as el Nino.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive
 

Romney has addressed his earlier comments on more than one occasion. You’ll want to do some research so you can be better prepared when you write your next “opinion” hit-job.

Posted by PubliusRexx | Report as abusive
 

“Americans with sufficient means would no longer be able to be ‘free riders’ on society by avoiding sensible health insurance expenditures and relying on others to pay for care in an emergency or in retirement,” Butler wrote.

That’s just dumb and not the way the self-insuring people of means work. If you’re rich enough to self-insure you’re rich enough to pay for your emergencies. It’s the lower middle class and poor that can’t afford health insurance and have to lean on public services in times of crisis. Forcing the rich to buy health insurance does nothing to lower the cost to everyone else in the real world, it’s just a boon to the insurance companies.

Let’s go back to not-for-profit care, remember that? Blue Cross/Blue Shield, not-for-profit hospitals built by their communities and no for profit out-patient surgery centers syphoning off revenue from the local hospital. That was a system that worked well for everyone.

The argument that the private sector does healthcare better than the public sector is a false one. Look at the correlation between privatization and healthcare costs: they moved in perfect tandem. Take the profit motive out of healthcare and we’ll have less expensive and better quality care.

Posted by PapaDisco | Report as abusive
 

Although the idea is sound, the problem is how it is being mandated. The Federal government does not have the power to do this, only the states can. This is why it is OK for MASS to keep it even if the SCOTUS shoots down the president’s healthcare plan.

Posted by Knowing | Report as abusive
 

Pish Posh! The state level is where health care belongs. With that said… n’uff said.

Posted by imeubu | Report as abusive
 

“It can be a glowing Brave New Third World in America – free magic underwear for everybody! – if you’ll just believe me one last time.”

Posted by foiegras | Report as abusive
 

“If a family failed to enroll, a fine might be imposed”
Mmmmmmmmm! a Fine:) That’s what makes it conservitive republican the Punishment. You see the problem with single payer is there’s no pain.

Posted by Dave1968 | Report as abusive
 

From_California..put down the bong bro…you’re dazed, confused and your use of the term Socialism is a testimony to either a poor educational system or ADD. While Romney sings the praises of his own plan, his first order of business would be to dismantle it’s exact clone, Obamacare. That isn’t being particularly smart. Looks to me like he’s simply pandering to the conservative base that hates everything Obama. We pick up the tab of those uninsured through higher costs. That isn’t “socialism”. That’s how almost everything works in a capitalist society. The costs of providing goods and services is built into the price. In the case of healthcare there is an opportunity to lower the costs by requiring those that are currently uninsured, to buy health insurance. However, it remains to be seen if that will bring down healthcare costs. Will providers lower the prices they current charge and pass the savings along when there are fewer write-offs because more people are insured? I’m skeptical. As for admiring Romney’s business experience…this is what we specifically know (so far) about a Romney Presidency. He wants 20% tax cuts across the board (this is what? his 3 or 4th idea on taxes). He wants to increase Defense spending by $2.1T over the next 10 years. He wants to repeal Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare). Spoken like a true Wall Street insider. And absolutely no specifics on how he’d pay for any of the additional spending and loss of revenue, much less the current $1T annual deficit. Or perhaps you thought that simply by electing Romney that deficit would magically go away? Bill Clinton is right! Romney is GW Bush on steroids. If you make less than $1M a year and vote for Mitt Romney in 2012..you qualify as a moron.

Posted by xyz2055 | Report as abusive
 

The President,as leader of his party, once again expressed that every American should pay his fair share in taxes. One sizable loophole in the Federal Tax Code is TAX EXCLUSION INCOME. It is time to do something about this unfair tax revenue placed disproportionately on small business & especially the self-reliant. The President is correct we are all in this mess together. It is time to correct the inequity of Tax Exclusion income for some rather than for all workers earning income & paying taxes on all received income. There is no reason for this inequity especially after the President many request for equity.

Posted by buckaroo5 | Report as abusive
 

A little bit sticky for the Supreme-GOP, and the Legislative-GOP. They know eventually a mandate will likely be necessary, barring libertarianism and secessionism. Plus, they would really LOVE and want a health insurance mandate. It is just that they want one also mandating a fat, juicy, artery of Public money to the for-profit insurance companies.

How can Scalia block the Dem public-ee mandate plan while leaving a crack for a possible GOP mandate? It is possible they find a detail in the large bill to hang a rational rejection on. But I suspect it will be a ruling obviously molded to the goal of rejection, and obviously brushing off the 14th Amendment. Later after some re-branding of terminology and public perception it will reanimate as a “State-based” GOP plan. Then the Supreme-GOP, take ANOTHER one for the team by going down in history as unjust, biased, Constitution-sell-outs, and pass it with a ruling obviously molded to the goal of passing it.

Posted by ConstFundie | Report as abusive
 

I see a number of Romney supporters here….making themselves look foolish again. So, being that the President made a good plan, RomneyCare, into a national plan, this is bad. But because Mass. is but a state, this plan is ok?

You people are so full of it. You have excuses for everything.

Seems to me that any form of legislation, any form of governance, any plan, etc. that comes from a Democrat or a black President is considered illegitimate by anyone calling themselves a Republican.

You people love to rule, but you govern like crap.

Posted by krimsonpage | Report as abusive
 

There are 2 different issues at play here, as krimsonpage correctly points out. There is the question of whether or not the federal government has the Constitutional right to mandate the requirement that people buy insurance, and there is the totally separate question of whether or not the plan is a good plan.

What the Supremes decide should not be seen as a judgment on the plan itself. That’s not what they’re deliberating on, though it’s to be expected that the Republicans will present it as a thumbs down judgment on the plan. Its dishonest, but that’s what they do.

But is it a good plan? This is what makes Romney look so foolishly hypocritical. Clearly he thinks it’s a good plan for at least Massachusetts. But if good for Massachusetts, why not other states? Romney has also been quoted as saying that it would serve as a good national plan as well. This is to be expected. A governor who comes up with a good idea likes the world to know that the idea is theirs and that everyone should embrace it.

Also, the people who worked on the plan with Romney thought it would be a good national plan, and so they worked with the Obama Administration in designing it.

Furthermore, it was originally conceived by Stuart M. Butler of the Heritage Foundation, a very conservative think tank and the concept was designed as a national healthcare plan, not just for the state of Massachusetts.

There’s really no wiggle room for Romney on this. He is being dishonest and hypocritical on this issue. The only way Romney could prove otherwise, prove that he hasn’t flip flopped on this issue, that his healthcare plan is only appropriate for Massachusetts, then he’d have to be able to show us quotes and video tape of him making such statements, because if he really felt that way, that would be an obvious thing for a governor to say. Instead, he said the following: “If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be a model for the nation.”

Perhaps even more disturbing than Romney’s dishonest hypocrisy on this issue, and others, is how so many Americans, mostly on the right, are more upset about the fallacy that Obama wasn’t born in the US than they are about Romney’s habitual dishonesty. At an alarming rate, people on the right increasingly base what they believe on whether or not it serves to further the rightwing agenda, and not whether it’s true or not. Promoting the power and influence of rightwing leaders is more important to them than the actual agenda itself, which clearly is not well understood.

I believe there is something afoot that will prove to be the biggest threat to our Republic since the Civil War. Money is firmly in control and it’s being well-utilized to shape our thinking on political matters like never before. A one party state not unlike Russia is a likely eventuality. It will continue to be okay to disagree with the right, provided you don’t try to do anything about it. Then you’ll be labeled a terrorist and will be shut down. Will this plutocratic coup prove to be democracy’s undoing? How can it not?

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive
 

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