Obamacare s. Romneycare: Can You Tell The Difference?

Governor Romney, flanked by Ted Kennedy and other Democratic leaders, signs a bill into law to guarantee universal health care coverage in his state.
Governor Romney, flanked by Ted Kennedy and other Democratic leaders, signs a bill into law to guarantee universal health care coverage in his state. | Source

It may not be morning in America, but on April 12, 2011, Democrats are celebrating. It’s the fifth anniversary of Romney’s Massachusetts health care law, and groups all over the United States are cutting cake to commemorate the event. The celebrations are in recognition of the fact that Romneycare was an important precursor and inspiration for their own sweeping health care law last year. After all, President Obama laughingly told reporters at a fundraiser that “States are the laboratories for democracy, and I know that because I got a very good idea from a recent health care law signed by a Massachusetts governor.”

It’s not surprising that Democrats enjoy tweaking the Republican front-runner for the nomination. But do they have a point? Is Romneycare too similar to the national overhaul to be forgivable by Republican primary voters?

“The law I signed was 88 pages long,” Romney says in his defense. “The national law was over a thousand pages long, and in that 912 pages there were a lot of job-killing, big government ideas that were nowhere mentioned in my bill.”

But there is at least one similarity. The individual mandate, perhaps the most hated feature of the Affordable health Care Act in conservative circles, is present in both laws. In other words, both laws require people to have health insurance, or pay a fine.

It’s a significant similarity because the individual mandate is what conservative Attorney Generals everywhere are suing over, claiming it to be unconstitutional. To this day, August 8, 20011, Mitt Romney has refused to apologize for his law.

I wasn’t surprised, despite the fact it wouldn’t be the first position he abandoned at a politically convenient time. Admitting his mistake would only make it easier for his rivals for the nomination to pile on. But the fact that he won’t even disown his individual mandate suggests that he is more comfortable with big government that he would like primary voters to see.

What other similarities are there? Both bills had the goal of making health care universal, and 98% of Massachusetts residents have health care now. Both bills also forbid insurance companies from denying treatment for preexisting conditions, and they tax major companies that don’t offer employers an insurance plan.

There are some differences that Romney hopes will placate conservatives. His bill did not raise taxes, while Obama’s raised revenue by taxing insurance companies, closing tax loopholes, and of course, levying fines for failing to purchase health care. And of course, the law was at the state level, so it lacked some of the audacity of Obama’s law that takes effect in all parts of the country, from Los Angeles to the most rural community in Mississippi.

Even the states’ rights argument has a caveat, though. Mitt Romney was actually prompted to enact some of the reforms by the federal government, in an effort to avoid higher federal taxes in Massachusetts. His health care reform wasn’t exactly an independent experiment, but rather a measure endorsed at the time by an ever-growing federal government.

No doubt his law will seem acceptable to some “moderate Republicans.” But I can’t help but wonder what place any man who has acted as though it’s the duty of the government at any level to provide universal health care should have in the race for the Republican nomination.

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