Appearing on CNN last night, Mitt Romney conceded that the Massachusetts health care plan he signed into law did nothing to control costs. But, he now says, it was never intended to.
“We were unable to deal with — and didn’t have any pretense we would somehow be able to change — health care costs in Massachusetts,” Romney said. “That’s a whole different topic, which is how do we get the cost of health care down in America.”
The problem with Romney’s account is that at the time he signed the bill, he was saying it would bring down health care costs. Specifically, in a triumphant April 2006 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Health Care for Everyone? We Found a Way,” Romney boasted: “Every uninsured citizen in Massachusetts will soon have affordable health insurance and the costs of health care will be reduced.” (Emphasis mine.)
Romney, for the most part, was able to avoid criticism for his Massachusetts health care plan in the 2008 Republican primaries. At the time, it was still too soon to evaluate the program with hard data and Republican primary voters weren’t really paying attention to the issue of health care. But now both things have changed — the legislation has proved disastrous for state finances, the cost of premiums, and doctors’ wait times. In addition, Republican voters have become more aware of health care policy issues. And Romney’s plan is basically the Baucus bill at the state level: a government mandate forcing individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a tax, and government subsidies to help individuals purchase government-designed insurance policies on a government-run exchange.
It’s not surprising to see that as he lays the groundwork for a likely presidential run, Tim Pawlenty has made health care a major focus. One of the biggest obstacles Pawlenty will face in seeking the Republican nomination is the sense that he’s a big government “Sam’s Club” Republican. Clearly, he sees health care as one issue on which he can credibly position himself to the right of Romney.