ObamaCare abortion debate rekindles RomneyCare controversies

Jules Crittenden calls it Mitt Romney’s health-care problem, and he doesn’t mean a nagging cold.  Romney appeared on Fox News Sunday to talk about his new book, but Chris Wallace probed Romney’s response to criticisms mounting over his expansive health-care system in Massachusetts.  That plan imposed mandates on businesses and individuals, setting minimum insurance-coverage standards, and subsidies — which looks a lot like the ObamaCare proposal floating in Congress.  The result has been skyrocketing premiums and massive cost overruns, one of the main arguments against the ObamaCare approach:

On the surface, it would seem that the abortion coverage in RomneyCare would be the big problem. However, as the Boston Herald reports, Romney had little choice in that provision:

Former Gov. Mitt Romney’s presumed 2012 presidential campaign is getting off to a bumpy start as his signature Bay State health-care plan has come under new fire from conservatives because it subsidizes abortions.

Romney’s landmark 2006 universal health-care law allows low-income residents covered under Commonwealth Care to get taxpayer-funded abortions. Abortion has become a lightning rod in the highly charged battle over President Obama’s health-care push. …

But Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said his boss had no choice when he pushed his health plan because he had to abide by a Supreme Judicial Court ruling mandating abortion coverage for women getting Medicaid.

“It’s not something that Gov. Romney agrees with, but it’s longstanding court precedent that predates his administration,” Fehrnstrom wrote in an e-mail.

The bigger problem is the enormous cost of RomneyCare. In this interview, Romney said that he didn’t raise taxes to pay for the plan, but the cost overruns will force Massachusetts to either do so now or significantly alter the program:

Romney’s making quite a few claims about what Romneycare is doing to Massachusetts, claims that don’t add up. He told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that “the plan this year, for instance, is $80 million below budget.”

But The Wall Street Journal reports that it’s nearly $50 million over budget.

Romney then added that the costs are “coming in very much within the range that was forecast when the Legislature and I put this together.” In fact, Gov. Deval Patrick’s asking for $912 million to fund the program for next year – at least $100 million more than projected when Romney was governor.

And that’s just what it’s costing us as taxpayers. Romneycare is also driving up our insurance premiums and the cost of our actual health care, too. So will Obamacare. But Romney, a Republican candidate for president, is defending the former and attacking the latter.

In his defense, Romney admitted to Fox that about half of the real costs of “extending coverage to the uninsured” (aka forcing young, healthy people to buy expensive insurance they don’t need) is covered by federal tax dollars. In other words, as expensive as it is, without federal subsidies it would cost even more.

Romney wants to differentiate his approach to that of ObamaCare by noting that his plan was on the state level, not federal. That’s true, but also a non-sequitur. As the Herald notes, it uses mainly the same approach that ObamaCare uses in imposing more government control over the health-care sector. Like ObamaCare will, Massachusetts has only succeeded in increasing costs, both to the government and to individuals. While the White House acknowledges using the Massachusetts plan as a model for their own general suggestions on health-care reform, their opponents have used Massachusetts much more specifically as an argument against them. And Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts speaks volumes about how Bay State voters feel about government-controlled health care.

Romney would be better off jettisoning his support of the plan, perhaps chalking it up to bad implementation. Arguing that following a similar plan on a federal level is objectionable merely because of federalism isn’t going to work if Romney wants to challenge for the GOP nomination to run against Obama in 2012. The nation is coming around to the realization that government intervention creates more problems than it solves, and that free-market reform has the best chance of succeeding. Romney’s continued insistence on supporting a government intervention through some nuanced points on which level mandates what to whom is a losing argument.

Update: The Club for Growth isn’t impressed, either:

But guess who disagrees with Romney’s assessment? The Club for Growth, a powerhouse conservative group with a lot of sway in GOP primaries. A top Club official tore into Romney, telling us that if Romney believes this, then he’s “in the wrong party.”

“We can say unequivocally that that is not a conservative plan,” Andy Roth, Club for Growth’s vice president for government affairs, told our reporter Ryan Derousseau when asked for comment on Romney’s claim about Romneycare.

On Sunday, Romney elicited skepticism even from Fox’s Chris Wallace when he said: “There a big difference between what we did and what President Obama is doing. What we did I think is the ultimate conservative plan.”

But Club for Growth’s Roth dismissed this as bunk, citing Romneycare’s individual mandate as proof. “The individual mandate is diametrically against what free-market conservatives believe in,” he said, adding that if Romney thinks his plan amounts to a conservative policy “than I think he is in the wrong party.”

Would Romney benefit by saying instead, “Look, I tried working with the Democrats on their terms, and this turned out to be a big mistake”?  I think it would put him more in the mainstream of where Americans want to take health-care reform now.  It would work better than continuing to defend MassCare.