New Campaign Will Turn Up Heat on Health Care in Already Hot Election Year

Monday, April 30, 2012

The news today that the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) is launching its largest issue campaign in two decades got me wondering again if health care will be a winning bet this year for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

Right now, it looks like it’s tilting in favor of the former Massachusetts governor, as a majority of voters continue to tell pollsters they’re unhappy with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the massive reform of health care that Obama brought about in 2010 without a single Republican vote.

You have to hand it to Romney for coming up with a pretty good reason why, when he was governor, he favored universal health coverage and the individual mandate to obtain coverage but now as a presidential candidate opposes the federal government doing precisely that, to wit:

Within their borders, Massachusetts and other states should be free to reform health care any way they see fit but there is no one-size-fits-all solution to what ails our health care system, and the federal government should not be in the business of requiring every last citizen of the USA to buy coverage.

But when you look at some of the facts and figures AIM is citing in its hours-old Employers’ Campaign for Affordable Care, you have to wonder if Obama could turn the issue his way by some Harry Truman-style plain talk.

Would people buy it if he explained in simple terms why he had to act on health care to preserve our nation’s economic future and protect average citizens from the financial devastation of sudden serious illnesses and accidents?  (Fact: Sixty-two percent of all personal bankruptcies in our country stem from unbearable medical costs.)

Would they respond positively if he humbly conceded that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is far from perfect and made a sincere appeal to Republicans to work with him on improving it a cornerstone of his campaign? 

Would they be willing to consider the argument that Republicans have failed to offer a viable, comparable alternative to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a GOP option that would accomplish as much as “Obamacare” will do, if only it is given time to work?

Most intriguingly, would people rally to a heretofore-avoided, emotion-grabbing, populist appeal from Obama that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a much-needed force for social cohesion and social justice, that it puts every American on an equal footing on one of the fundamental needs of all human beings.   It’s not hard to imagine Harry Truman, one of the first presidents to talk about a national health system, making that cry.

You never know.  A lot can happen between now and November to change how people think and feel about health care across America.  Thanks to AIM and others, people in Massachusetts will be hearing a lot about this issue throughout the presidential election, which coincides with elections to the state legislature.

AIM said this morning in a media release announcing the start of Employers’ Campaign for Affordable Care, “Massachusetts employers have watched with growing frustration during the past two decades as health care expenditures have outrun wages, consumer prices and per-capital Gross Domestic Product.  Total health spending in a commonwealth widely acknowledged as being a world center of medical care rose from $20 billion in 1991 to approximately $68 billion last year.  That number is projected to double to $123 billion by 2020 without intervention to control costs."

The release also said, “AIM strongly believes that a political consensus has formed in Massachusetts around the need to reduce and manage the cost of health care for consumers and employers.  Virtually everyone – from business and political leaders to cities and towns being forced to borrow money to pay health premiums – agrees that the Massachusetts health care market is unsustainable and that the time is now for fundamental changes to the way companies and consumers purchase medical services.”

The Massachusetts health care market may indeed be unsustainable, but AIM took pains to point out that its Employers’ Campaign for Affordable Care “is about hope, not despair,” and that, “Massachusetts has a unique opportunity and responsibility to solve the health cost puzzle.  The commonwealth became a model for the nation in 2006 when it undertook a bipartisan health reform that has since extended coverage to 400,000 people who did not have coverage previously.  With the rest of the country only now taking its first, halting steps toward expansion of coverage, it’s time for Massachusetts to establish a model for making world-class health care measurable and affordable for employers and consumers alike.”

…Speaking of hope, the Democratic Party is hoping to tie Romney with chains to the universal health care system implemented in Massachusetts when he was governor, a system based solidly and unalterably on the individual mandate.

During an April 11 ceremony at Boston's Faneuil Hall marking the sixth anniversary of that system, (When before did anyone ever celebrate the sixth anniversary of a government program?), Governor Deval Patrick emphasized that Romney had no qualms whatsoever about the individual mandate in 2006.

“I think he (Romney) has a lot to be proud of,” said Patrick.  “He contributed ideas as well.  The individual mandate is one of them.”

The most interesting comment at that ceremony came not from Patrick, however, but rather from the man who was president of the Massachusetts Senate in 2006, Bob Travaglini, who managed the trick of keeping Romney’s contribution to universal coverage front and center while simultaneously diminishing the ex-governor's role.

“I don’t think that he (Romney) was the driving force or a leader in this discussion,” Travaglini said.  “I think he played a role and that was the responsibility of the administration.  If there was any real leader in this, I would give that credit to Ted Kennedy, not Mitt Romney.”

That Trav knows how to sting: Romney as governor took his cues from the liberal lion of the U.S. Senate.  Ouch!   

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