Mitt's Latest Health Care Story

At the tail end of an excellent Wall Street Journal article about Mitt Romney's Presidential fundraising operation, we are told that Romney has a defense prepared for the inevitable campaign-trail questions regarding the Massachusetts health care law he signed in 2006. That is, another defense.

The former governor told donors that the plan he signed in Massachusetts was the best for the state at the time, but that no one plan should be imposed on the nation.

A Romney fund-raiser said the former governor also would argue that the Massachusetts law was necessary to stave off the imminent bankruptcy of the state's Medicaid program. The law's requirement that most in the state buy insurance coverage had been hatched by the conservative Heritage Foundation and was used by Mr. Romney to thwart state Democrats from winning a government-run insurance option, he will argue.

There is a kernel of truth in that last line: a major impetus that drove the stakeholders to collective action was the very real threat of a universal-coverage ballot initiative passing.

Nevertheless, I foresee a potential problem if Romney in fact makes the above argument -- unless Mitt is prepared to slink down several hundred thousand chimneys, Grinch-like, to confiscate copies of No Apology, in which he tells a completely different story. (Actually, as I previously reported, two somewhat contradictory stories in the hardcover and paperback.)

The chapter of No Apology titled "Healing Health Care" is, actually, one of the better discussions of the issue you're likely to come across (especially the original hardcover version), certainly in a mass-market political book. I would take issue with parts of it, and some important things have been left out, but overall it's a pretty reasonable overview of the issues at stake, the difficulties in solving those issues, the way Massachusetts went about it, and what that all translates into at a national level.

It even includes a line that, however trite, is the truth about the Massachusetts law, and applies equally to "ObamaCare": "All of us knew the bill wasn't perfect; nothing that groundbreaking could be."

Here's what the chapter does not say: anything about the need to "stave off the imminent bankruptcy of the state's Medicaid program," or "thwart state Democrats from winning a government-run insurance option."

Not one word about either of those things forcing him, reluctantly, to the health care reform table. Quite the opposite. He writes in the book that he did it to help people.

He writes that he made the decision shortly after the election that made him governor in 2002. He recognized the large number of people facing health and financial distress because they were unable to obtain health insurance, he writes (even briefly describing some specific sad stories). "And as governor, I was in a position to do something about it."

Romney goes on, in the book, to describe the long, mostly out-of-the-limelight process of gathering and examining information with a group of advisors; of arriving at a plan; and of then taking the proposal -- still not public -- to Senator Ted Kennedy in Winter 2004, who would need to help gain federal approval for some of it, and whose support could make or break the bill's chances in the state legislature. "He quickly grasped the structure of our program, and following a few meetings, he agreed to support our approach," Romney writes.

Next up, Senate President Robert Travaglini, who "liked our plan," and "agreed to support it with a few modifications, none of which I seriously objected to." (Roughly speaking, this is the point on the timeline when Health Care For All, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and others began pushing for the universal-coverage ballot initiative -- although that effort is not mentioned in Romney's book.) The House side, however, took a year to produce a bill that "retained the original vision, plus added features," which Romney signed (vetoing some provisions, which the legislature overrode) in April 2006.

From my perch at the time, I'd say that overview presented in No Apology is fairly accurate, albeit skimming over or completely omitting some important steps and contributors. (This blog is read by more than a few people who were involved with, or were very close to, this process, and I'd certainly appreciate their input about how closely Romney's tale does or doesn't match what really happened.)

But, accurate or not, the point is that just very recently, in committing to print his personal version of those events, Romney clearly claimed that it was all his idea. (Including, although he doesn't specifically say so in the book, the individual mandate, which was part of the proposal by the time it reached the Kennedy stage.) He also clearly claimed that he was the driving factor, and that his sole motivation was the desire to extend health care coverage to all the residents of the Commonwealth.

So now, for him to claim on the campaign trail -- if the Post story proves correct -- that he did it as some sort of defensive measure, his hand forced by imminent Medicaid bankruptcy and a far worse Democratic bill barrelling down the statehouse halls, looks patently like a complete retelling of his tale, even from just a few months ago.

And why, oh why, would the guy with the inauthenticity and flip-flopping image problem do that?

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