Last night’s debate featured perhaps the most vitriolic criticisms of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan yet. Yet it’s becoming increasingly clear that none of the candidates is going to be able to hold Romney responsible for the mistake he made in Massachusetts. Romney was able to parry the others’ jabs with his usual prepackaged responses, and also to add, correctly, that the criticisms are getting old.
Take Rick Santorum’s attack on Romney last night. It was the best such attempt so far, yet Romney was able to shake it without much trouble. From the transcript:
SANTORUM: Mitt, the governor of Massachusetts just is coming forward saying we have to pick up the job left undone by Romneycare, which is doing something about cutting health care costs.
What you did is exactly what Barack Obama did: focused on the wrong problem. Herman always says you’ve got to find the right problem. Well, the right problem is health care costs. What you did with a top-down, government-run program was focus on the problem of health care access. You expanded the pool of insurance without controlling costs. You’ve blown a hole in the budget up there. And you authored in Obamacare, which is going to blow a hole in the budget of this country.
Here Santorum gets one big thing right: that both Obamacare and Romneycare were focused on expanding health insurance coverage without also aiming to control costs, and both will be fiscally disastrous. That’s right, but it misses the point that there’s more to health care than simply insurance status and cost. There’s also access and quality. Both Romneycare and Obamacare were intended to address one specific problem with health care in the U.S.: the number of people without health care insurance. But the underlying problem with health care is…everything: access, cost, and quality. Romney and Obama nominally addressed the first, by expanding the role of the government, without even addressing the first or second. It’s a shame that there’s no one on the Republican debate stage who can articulate that simple criticism.