If former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hadn't switched previous positions so dramatically on issues like abortion and same-sex unions, he'd probably have an easier time convincing voters that his newfound religion on health care reform is sincere. But as the Boston Herald's Michael Graham points out, Romney's got "more flip-flops on his record than a beachfront sandal shop."
With "RomneyCare" hanging in the atmosphere as his biggest liability in the 2012 Republican presidential race, he clearly had to do something. So, undaunted, and returning Thursday to the state where his father was a three-term governor, that's what Romney attempted to do.
In a speech at the University of Michigan, he tried to put as much distance as possible between himself and "ObamaCare" — President Barack Obama's individual health care mandate and universal coverage scheme — and RomneyCare, the individual mandate and universal coverage scheme he signed into law in 2006 and upon which the basic framework of ObamaCare was based.
Coming across less like a visionary and more like, well, a health insurance salesman, the jacket-and-tie-less Romney stood at a classroom lectern and gave a PowerPoint presentation outlining a revised approach that was fairly light on specifics, for which he promised, "They'll be coming."
But like the title of his book, No Apology, he didn't say sorry; instead he called his push for RomneyCare "what I thought was right for the people of my state," then dismissed Obama's plan as "a power grab by the federal government." Only time will tell how his speech went over, but as debate and primary season nears, it looks like Romney might still be in for an uphill climb.
Do No Harm
Romney underscored individual choice as a key feature of his plan, claiming, "Mine includes no mandates." But he didn't manage to fully account for his past support of the individual mandate — the requirement that healthy people buy insurance to average out the expense of care for those with illnesses — which became the libertarian bête noire in 2009's ObamaCare debate.
The Wall Street Journal savaged Romney on this point, arguing Thursday in an op-ed that his past support for the individual mandate was "a blunder" in "philosophy of government" — not mentioning that it was on the Journal's op-ed page in 2006 that Romney wrote (in an article now gone from its website): "Someone has to pay for health care that must, by law, be provided … we insist that everyone purchase health insurance from one of our private insurance companies."
Previewing his speech in USA Today on Wednesday, Romney pitched the idea of giving people who purchase their own coverage "a tax deduction to buy insurance on their own," like the one employers now get for offering health insurance to their employees. It's an interesting twist on the need to maintain coverage as employees move from job to job. But in the speech, Romney almost seemed to say that he'd also have employers pay employees what they'd otherwise have spent on company plans — a feature that's fanciful at best, and won't sell with free marketeers.
Just three words: Medicaid block grants — health care's equivalent of an airline's oversold flight.
And new RomneyCare offers the same problem as old RomneyCare, ObamaCare and even RyanCare — Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) Medicare voucher plan that passed the House of Representatives with all but four Republican votes: Namely, none of these plans stops private insurers from hiking premiums as costs of care increase. The public is unconvinced that any of these proposals will "bend the cost curve" — as Obama says — or shrink the aggregate cost of care as a share of GDP down from 18 to 12 percent, as Romney says his would. All of it still sounds like a cumbersome, big-government apparatus with too many moving parts.
Romney is officially on the sidelines, but he threw "If I am elected president" into his USA Today piece, removing any doubt that this speech was aimed at anything other than launching his candidacy against Republican primary opponents and, eventually, Obama. But RomneyCare remains Romney's Rev. Jeremiah Wright: an old friend that could bring down his candidacy.
Ditching RomneyCare is now his highest priority. But since it was Romney's plan to begin with, it'll be a flip-flop with a high degree of difficulty.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.