Mitt Romney's 2012 version of Romneycare is very different from the 2006 version of Romneycare, but it's still revolutionary. Romneycare 2006 tried to cover people who couldn't get insurance through their employers. But Romneycare 2012 offers strong incentives for employers to stop offering health insurance, the Los Angeles Times' Noam N. Levey reports, without changing the insurance market to keep the number of uninsured from rising. While math once won the argument for Romney -- he wanted the individual mandate despite some aides' skepticism because it would cover more people for less money -- math appears to no longer be the deciding factor.
Romney included the individual mandate in his plan, The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza reported last year, because it would stop "free riders" who don't buy insurance and then stick taxpayers with the bill when they get sick. "[Jonathan] Gruber, the M.I.T. economist, may have sealed the case with a model showing that, without a mandate, Romney would insure a third of the people at two-thirds of the cost of doing it with a mandate," Lizza reported. He fought back against libertarian staffers who thought the government shouldn't force people to buy something. Per Lizza:
“My recollection of that meeting is Romney convincing his staff that this was a good thing to do,” Gruber said. He was inspired by Romney’s stand in favor of the plan. “He was just a champ,” Gruber said. “ ‘We’ve gotta stop these free riders! We can cover all the uninsured without spending any new money! This is the right thing to do!’ ”
But the Times' Levey reports that the new Romneycare would leave more people uninsured and probably not save money, as it's a lot like Sen. John McCain's 2008 plan that would have cost $1 trillion over 10 years, just like Obamacare. The central part of Romney's plan is that it would give big tax breaks to people who buy their own insurance. Right now, people who buy health insurance on their own are taxed, while people who get it through their employers are not. The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn explains:
The tax break for employer insurance distorts the health care economy, by giving companies extra incentive to provide benefits and giving workers artificial incentive to demand them. In that sense, getting rid of it is a perfectly sensible idea—if, at the same time, you make other regulatory changes, so that people who no longer get coverage through work are able to get affordable, reliable coverage on their own.
Romney's plan doesn't do that, Cohn says. Romney repeatedly said in 2009 that Romneycare 1.0 would be a good model nationwide because it would cover the uninsured without creating a government-run insurance program. He urged Obama to "learn from our experience" in Massachusetts. But Romney, who nearly lost the Republican primary to a series of improbable candidates, has learned from his experience, too. Electoral math matters as much as budgetary math.