Last week, I wrote a column explaining why a Mitt Romney nomination would kill the repeal movement by allowing President Obama to neutralize the health care issue given the similarities between the Massachusetts plan and the national health care law. At one point, I noted that Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC recently announced a “Prescription for Repeal” initiative to contribute to conservative candidates. But the language leaves wiggle by promising only to repeal the “worse aspects” of ObamaCare without defining what they are.
Today, a blogger for the website Rightosphere, Kavon Nikrad, writes that he asked Romney at a recent book signing to clarify what was meant by the “worst aspects,” and Romney told him that he would oppose a repeal of the individual mandate.
Here was the exchange, according to Nikrad:
I was one of the first in line to the book signing, and when my turn came I asked Gov. Romney if I could ask him a question. After he told me that this was OK, I posed the following question to him:
“You have stated your intention to spearhead the effort to repeal the ‘worst aspects’ of Obamacare, does this include the repeal of the individual mandate and pre-existing exclusion?”
The Governor’s answer:
Gov. Romney went on to explain that he does not wish to repeal these aspects because of the deleterious effect it would have on those with pre-existing conditions in obtaining health insurance.
To be clear, once you force insurance companies to cover those with preexisting conditions, it leads to a mandate to force individuals to purchase insurance. Otherwise, healthy individuals leave the market and simply wait until they get sick, and insurers are left with only the sickest and most expensive patients. This triggers premiums to go up even higher, encouraging even more healthy people to leave the market, and so the so-called “death spiral” ensues.
Given Romney’s long record of publicly defending the individual mandate — even on conservative terms — it certainly sounds plausible that he would oppose repealing that aspect of the new health care law. But I emailed Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC to get its reaction to Nikrad’s post and will report back when I get a response.
UPDATE: Ben Smith gets a comment from Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, who calls Nikrad’s account “innaccurate” but doesn’t address the actual question of what Romney would support repealing. Fehrnstrom says:
Mitt Romney has been very clear in all his public statements that he is opposed to a national individual mandate. He believes those decisions should be left to the states.
In reality, Romney hasn’t always been “very clear.” For instance, this was an exchange with ABC’s Charlie Gibson in a January 2008 Republican primary debate (transcript here):
GIBSON: But Government Romney’s system has mandates in Massachusetts, although you backed away from mandates on a national basis.
ROMNEY: No, no, I like mandates. The mandates work.
Later in that same exchange, he says that his national plan wouldn’t impose a federal mandate. Of course, what you would propose to do and what you would support repealing are two different questiions, and Fehrnstrom still doesn’t provide a satisfactory answer.
The confusion just reinforces what I wrote last week, which is that Romney would simply not be able to credibly campaign against ObamaCare were he the 2012 nominee. There are too many video clips of Romney defending the individual mandate in principle for him to present a clear contrast with Obama. Just check out this compilation by Democrats.
UPDATE II: Fehrnstrom now says that the mandate should be repealed. But we still don’t know what Romney means by wanting to only repeal the “worst aspects” of ObamaCare — nor does this explain how he’d be able to overcome charges that he’s flip-flopping on mandates.
UPDATE III: Here’s Romney in a Newsweek interview making the case that ObamaCare and RomneyCare are different.