Romney in Nashville: State-by-State Solutions Still Best for Health Reform

Mitt Romney told an audience of insurance industry executives gathered in Nashville this week that he still thinks states, not the federal government, should be leading in the realm of health reform.

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law five years ago, encourages just the opposite, said the two-time Republican presidential candidate.

The ACA thwarts states from doing what makes the most sense for their own vulnerable populations, said Romney, who delivered a Thursday afternoon address before a national trade association called America’s Health Insurance Plans at the Music City Center.

Washington has imposed a one-size-fits-all solution on the entire country, and the result will be ever-increasing insurance premiums and a predominant sense of dissatisfaction Americans have with their coverage, said Romney, who hit upon and has refined some of the same points he made on the matter in his failed attempt to oust President Obama in the 2012 election.

The former Massachusetts governor was asked at the AHIP conference to talk about how some of the components of Obamacare mirror the state health-coverage overhaul he signed into law nearly ten years ago — an issue that dogged him in his White House bid.

Romney said he’s in fact “proud of what we did” with “Romneycare,” as the Bay State’s system of insurance mandates and coverage subsidies came later to be known.

“By virtue of what we did, we helped save lives,” Romney said. He added later, “I’m glad we did what we did, but I wish people would have listened to me when I said it is right for Massachusetts, it is not something that should be adopted by the entire country.”

Romneycare was tailored for Massachusetts alone, he said.

“What we did is we expanded private insurance, not government insurance, but private insurance to the people in my state who were uninsured,” he said. “Now, we had some unusual circumstances in Massachusetts, and what we crafted was with those unusual circumstances in mind.”

One of those circumstances peculiar to Massachusetts was that pricey minimum-benefit medical coverage plans were already mandated by the state when the reform package was passed in 2006. “You really couldn’t buy a stripped-down, catastrophic-care plan. You had to buy a gold-plated plan. And so as a result, Massachusetts health insurance was the most expensive in the nation, and still is,” said Romney.

As governor, Romney said he in fact tried to do away with the health-plan mandates that he believed unnecessarily elevated the cost of insurance, but was rebuffed by the legislature.

Requiring that health insurance plans include coverages that consumers don’t necessarily want or need makes even less sense in states where such mandates didn’t exist prior to passage of Obamacare, said Romney. The result of making citizens “purchase plans that look like Massachusetts plans,” will be that “premiums go through the roof,” he said.

Romney’s prediction on the issue is shared by the organization he spoke to, which notes on its website that, “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expands access to coverage to millions of Americans, a goal health plans have long supported, but major provisions will raise costs and disrupt coverage for individuals, families, employers, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.”

Romney said he still believes states need the flexibility to chart their own health-coverage courses. States that want to mandate a more comprehensive style of coverage should have the latitude to do so, and those that want to keep reform basic should be able to do that as well, he said.

“If people want to copy what we did in Massachusetts, fine. If Vermont wants to be a single-payer, let them try. If Texas wants to put in place a plan that has a health savings account-oriented plan or a catastrophic care plan instead, then let them try that,” Romney said. “If a state wants to use clinics as a away of providing care for low-income folks, let them try what they will.”

“Their objective will be to get everybody insured, cover prexisting conditions, but don’t put in place Massachusetts-style insurance requirements on the entire nation.”

“A lot of people lost their insurance that shouldn’t have — even though that was a promise not kept,” he said.

Also, higher premiums will result in a more aggressive push for a government-financed “public option,” Romney said. “I am concerned about them trying to move to a single-payer system — there are some who haven’t given up on that,” he said.

As for the government-run health programs already in existence prior to enactment of the Affordable Care Act, Romney said he’s frustrated by an apparent lack of commitment in Washington to modernize and restrain them so they don’t require ever deepening reservoirs of taxpayer resources to stay afloat.

“You might think in a circumstance like this that there would be great effort to try and reform those programs such that they don’t overwhelm the federal budget,” he said. “But of course there’s been no progress whatsoever on improving or reforming those programs to make them sustainable.”

Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak Friday to conclude AHIP’s three-day conference, although the former president’s address is closed to the press and public.