Pity poor Mitt Romney. His signature accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts is now his albatross. Try as he might, he just can’t seem to shake it.
As governor, Romney guided passage of a revolutionary health reform plan. The effort was bipartisan and collaborative. The plan, which was enacted in 2006, has extended coverage to thousands of previously uninsured residents and brought Massachusetts the lowest rate of uninsurance in the country, a mere 2%.
The plan’s basic elements may sound familiar. Everyone is mandated to have health insurance. Individuals can purchase it through an exchange. There are subsidies for those with low incomes and an expansion of Medicaid for the very poor. These should sound familiar because they are also the core elements Obamacare.
Today, most Massachusetts residents stand solidly behind the Romney plan. It enjoys wide support among physicians, hospitals, business leaders and community activists. Anything that can bring those disparate groups together nowadays is quite an achievement.
The plan has actually gained public support over time. An initial approval level of 61% rose to 67% in 2007 with 57% supporting its most controversial feature, the individual mandate.
Romney, himself, widely trumpeted his plan after its passage. He called it one of his proudest accomplishments and predicted it would be a model for the nation.
The plan’s success is what led Democrats to adopt it as the model for their health overhaul. And therein lies the problem. Health reform has become a litmus test for many in the base of Romney’s Republican Party.
Romney is planning to run for president. As an architect of the underpinnings of Obamacare, he has failed the litmus test. And the voters who are most concerned about it will likely vote in large numbers in the primaries.
Even some of Romney’s strongest supporters have abandoned him. The conservative Heritage Foundation vehemently endorsed his health reform plan when it was enacted. It even offered position papers in support. Today, its website features commentaries that attack its basic elements.
Romney tried to quiet the storm with a speech this week in which he attempted to distance himself from Obamacare. Although it keys off of his own plan, he sees it as giving too little flexibility to the states and wants it repealed. It remains to be seen whether this will pacify his party’s base, or his former friends.
It is a shame that health care has become so polarized that a genuine bipartisan success causes political harm. Mitt Romney showed that common ground can indeed be found between the political parties and between feuding interests. This is what most Americans say they want our politicians to do.
The most important lesson of Massachusetts health reform may be that political compromise can actually work. That example, at least, should be a model for the rest of the nation.
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