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Finally, Romney Says It: "I like the plan I put forward in Massachusetts"

Finally, Romney Says It: "I like the plan I put forward in Massachusetts"

September 20, 2007

OK, we categorize this as "health care humor." Just count the number of times you break out laughing and you'll get it. But this is no joke -- this is Mitt Romney's column in today's Wall Street Journal. Priceless.

Where HillaryCare Goes Wrong
By MITT ROMNEY -- September 20, 2007

Some of the details have changed, but at the heart of Sen. Hillary Clinton's new health-care proposal are the same flaws that sunk her first version. They flow from her distrust of markets, from her distaste for profit-motivated private enterprise, and from her consequent faith that Washington knows best. The truth is that the American people know best, and when a sector of the economy is not working as well as it might, you should look to give the people more influence, to unleash competitive forces, and to welcome private ingenuity. The last thing you should do is apply more government. But that's just what HillaryCare Version 2.0 does.

As governor of Massachusetts, I led the fight for reforms that used free markets and innovation, rather than big-government control, to lower health-care costs and cover the uninsured. I recently proposed a federalist reform plan that will use these principles to improve America's health-care system. Sen. Clinton has a very different view about the changes we need to make. Her plan has several weaknesses and should be distinguished from the reforms I led in Massachusetts and the reform plan I have proposed. So let's take a closer look at what her new proposal would really do:

• Raise taxes. The new plan is slated to cost $110 billion a year. And to pay for the new entitlement -- a tax hike. That in turn will slow down the economy and make the cost of her system grow even higher. By contrast, both the reforms I led in Massachusetts and the federalist reform plan I recently proposed do not raise taxes or increase spending. In fact, in the new plan that I have proposed, funds currently sent to states to care for the uninsured are made flexible so that the states may use them to help the poor acquire their own private insurance.

• Expand government insurance. People who don't obtain insurance through their employer are invited to buy a government-run, Medicare-like plan or enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). And so, more Americans will end up in government-run insurance. It's the gentle slope to a single payer, socialized medicine model. My plan in Massachusetts instead allowed the uninsured to choose a private insurance product from one of the many private insurance companies.

• Impose a national model on everyone. Sen. Clinton fundamentally distrusts state governments. But the states are closer to the people, and more responsive to them. They are also the laboratories of democracy -- the best ideas can come from 50 states each doing their best work. The senator's plan is a one-size-fits-all approach. It ignores significant differences between people and the needs of the 50 different states. Federalism is the right approach. The national reforms I have proposed give states financial flexibility to craft their own program to cover the uninsured, a program tailored to the specific needs of their citizens.

• Significantly increase the role of the federal government at the expense of free markets. For example, Sen. Clinton proposes the creation of an entirely new government-run Medicare-like program for the uninsured. Inevitably, lobbyists will go to town adding coverage mandates, setting rates and re-shaping plans to fit the wants of their clients. The better path is the market path. Let the multitude of private companies compete for the consumer's dollar -- the quality and the cost will be much better than what government could ever cobble together.

• Leave the mandate problem unsolved. Before you can impose a mandate on employers or individuals to purchase insurance, you need to reform state health insurance markets. Otherwise, policies can be so beefed-up with state mandated coverage and regulation that they are simply unaffordable. Then a mandate is unfair.

Moreover, her employer mandate doesn't solve the problem of the uninsured -- that's why I vetoed a similar measure when I was governor of Massachusetts. I chose an individual mandate only after we had done our best to reform state insurance regulations -- lowering premiums by as much as 50%. Let's be clear here: My plan in Massachusetts worked very differently than Sen. Clinton's plan would. First, we worked to reduce the burdens of regulation. The legislature insisted on more coverage mandates and regulation than I would have liked, but even so, less regulation has resulted in much lower premiums.

Second, we used the money we were already getting from the federal government to help the poor purchase their own private insurance -- without new taxes or spending. And even the poor paid their fair share of their premiums. Third, with the help of the Heritage Foundation, we found a path for most individuals to purchase insurance with pre-tax dollars, just like people who get their coverage through their employers. And finally, once premiums had been lowered and the poor were able to afford private insurance, my plan called for people to either purchase insurance or pay their own way -- no more free riders.

I like the plan I put forward in Massachusetts. But even so, I wouldn't do what Sen. Clinton does -- impose my way on every other state. Other states may borrow from what we did. Some will surely improve on it. But let's keep faith in federalism, in private markets and in individual responsibility.

I have announced my health-care plan for the nation. It follows the principles I pursued in Massachusetts. Reform state insurance markets first, to lower the cost of policies. Give states financial flexibility with Medicaid funds and with existing "free care" payments so that states can craft their own programs to expand private insurance. End the tax discrimination against individual purchasers of health insurance who currently must buy their coverage with post-tax dollars.

These, among other features of my plan, will lower the cost of health insurance, get all of our citizens insured, remove the threat of losing insurance when you lose or change jobs, improve the health of our citizens, and reduce the growth in health-care spending. It's the free market way, the private sector way, the individual responsibility way -- the American way."