Secret emails show Romney’s approval of health mandate
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