In a speech today in Michigan, Mitt Romney made it clear he won't be running away from the health care system he implemented in Massachusetts. While pundits have encouraged him to admit that it was a mistake, Romney said, “There’s only one problem with that--it wouldn’t be honest.”
While many conservatives loathe "Romneycare"--or "Mass-Care" as he dubbed it today--and liken it to Obamacare, Romney argued that comparisons between his plan and Obama's are baseless. Foremost, Romney said, the plans had different goals. While Obamacare was an attempt to achieve a “government takeover of health care,” the goal for “Mass-Care” was to “help people get and keep their health insurance.” And while Romney’s health care law raised no new taxes and cut nothing from seniors’ benefits, he said, Obamacare does both.
On the individual mandate, Romney said that his plan was an effort to solve the “free rider” problem. Massachusetts residents with the means to purchase insurance, he said, were taking advantage of the state’s agreement to pay some health care costs for the uninsured. “We were basically mandating that the taxpayers pay for” these free riders, Romney said. The options, then, were either to continue with the status quo, deny care to the uninsured across the board, or encourage “personal responsibility.” That’s where his mandate comes in.
It’s a very similar argument that the Obama administration has made in its defense of the individual mandate in court, as Philip Klein points out. Romney, however, couches it in 10th Amendment and federalism arguments. “This was a state decision,” he reiterated today. States have the ability under the Constitution to experiment with policies like this, he argued, whereas the federal government oversteps its limits when it issues an individual mandate from Washington. Romney is really making an argument, then, about the role and scope of the federal government rather than about the details of government health care policy at either the state or federal level.
Romney's arguments today weren't new--he's been making them for years. It's hard to say whether flip-flopping on his signature health care reform would have been more politically damaging than doubling down. But it's safe to say that Romney's conservative critics will likely redouble their efforts to show that Romneycare and Obamacare are essentially the same.