HH: In the midst of all the hoopla surrounding Michael Jackson, the President of the United States was campaigning for his massive health care overhaul. It’s radical, and to discuss what he’s proposing, what ought not to be done, what should be done, former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, joins me now. Governor Romney, always a pleasure, welcome back.
MR: It’s good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Now Governor, contrast what you did in Massachusetts with what President Obama is proposing to do nationally.
MR: Very simply, we were able to get everybody in our state to get private free-market health insurance. The people who could afford it on their own, we told them to get it. The people who couldn’t afford it, we helped them buy it. And we did this without getting the government in the insurance business. We did not have a government insurance plan. The federal government didn’t step in. The state government didn’t step in and start selling insurance. And that’s what Barack Obama wants to do, is to have the government start offering and issuing insurance to people, and you know where that’s headed. It’s headed right towards a single-payer system which is what he campaigned on. It means that the government would take over the entire health care industry. It’s the wrong way to go.
HH: Now Governor Romney, this goes back a couple of years when I wrote the book on your career, and as I recall, you had teams of experts come in prior to doing a health care plan. It wasn’t drafted on the fly, and everyone got to see it before it was passed. Am I recollecting that correctly?
MR: Well, you’re right. We spent about two years trying to come up with a way to get everybody insured without having to raise taxes or put new burdens on employers in our state. We didn’t think we could get the job done, but interestingly, a lot of folks came together. We came up with some interesting ideas. We were able to fashion a piece of legislation and a vision that would work. And I knew that in a state like Massachusetts, that wasn’t going to happen unless I got the other side of the aisle to go along, and so I met with Ted Kennedy, of all people, sat down, described what we were doing. He ultimately bought into it, and he was able to work together with me to get the support of the federal government. They had to give us some waivers from the traditional way of doing things. And then we had to get the legislature to go along. And when it was finished, we got a vote of 198-2 in our combined houses in the state government. And so Republicans and Democrats came together. It took about three years, Hugh, and it paid off, because the plan has now got virtually everybody in our state insured.
HH: Now Governor Romney, on Monday I’m devoting the whole show to this, and I’m going to start with Bob Moffit of Heritage, Dr. Bob Moffit. Second hour will be a guy named Clayton Christenson, professor at Harvard Business School. And then Dr. Irwin Redlener, lefty from Columbia Medical School, but they’re experts. They know what they’re talking about. None of them are default to the government option or the public plan. What’s so bad about the government option in the public plan?
MR: Well, the challenge with putting the government in the insurance business is pretty simple, and that is that you’d now have an insurance policy that lobbyists are going to say well, why don’t you include this coverage, why don’t you include this type of medical treatment, how about this drug. So it’s a lobbyist dream. And then you’re going to have to subsidize it. The federal government’s going to have to charge people taxes to pay money for the government insurance plan. And as it grows, they’re going to take more money. They’ll start off by telling you that it’s going to be small. I mean, I hear Barack Obama say his plan is a $1 billion to $1.6 billion, excuse me, $1 trillion to $1.6 trillion. This is a massive amount of money. But it’s small compared to where it’s going to go. It’s like Medicaid. When they passed Medicaid, they said it was going to cost about $500 million dollars a year. Well, it’s costing $500 billion dollars a year, a thousand times more. So that’s where it’s headed, government growing, taking more tax money, providing if you will an entitlement to everybody to be given insurance from the government. And basically, that’s saying we’re going to raise taxes, we’re going to charge you so that we the government can give you your insurance.
HH: Now let’s talk about private sector employers confronted with a public choice, Governor Romney. It’s my theory that if that public choice is subsidized, as it will be, employers will simply dump their employees into it, regardless of the President’s promise that if you like your health insurance, you can keep it.
MR: Yeah, the challenge is that for most people, their choice of their plan is not up to them, it’s up to their employer. Their employer might give them some options, but those options are chosen by the employer, not by them. And if the employer decides that the government plan is the one for them, because it’s the cheapest and it’s subsidized, why the employer is going to say hey, guess what, you guys have a choice this year. It’s the government plan. And of course, how do you compete with the federal government? They’d be with Medicare, Medicaid and then their own insurance, they’d have over half the market. And the next largest insurer probably has one or two percent. So you’re in a position where basically you say bye bye to the private sector in the health care industry. It’s almost one fifth of our total economy. It puts us on a track to socialism that is the wrong way to go.
HH: How has the plan in Massachusetts worked? It’s been on the books a couple of years now, people can begin to actually assess how it’s operating.
MR: Yeah, I like it. 440,000 people that weren’t insured now are insured. Individuals who buy insurance have seen the premiums for an individual policy cut in half, and that’s because you’ve got such a large pool of people that are now buying insurance individually. It’s costing, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, about $88 million dollars a year more than the prior year, and that adds up to about, well, less than 2% of the state budget. So it’s costing something, but it doesn’t begin to be the kind of backbreaking problem that Barack Obama’s looking at.
HH: Now are other states in a position to experiment as well, because one of the bad sides of the federal plan, the government plan, the public option, is that it will crush federalism’s laboratories.
MR: Yeah. No, you’re right. There’s, I don’t think, any state right now, with what’s going on in Washington, that would even consider trying to put in their own plan. They’d have to recognize that everything could be moot by virtue of the federal government stepping in, putting in their program. So this has put the brakes on, if you will, the laboratory democracy.
HH: Now you talk quite a lot, Governor Romney, with Republicans who are in Washington, D.C., and you’re out on the hustings helping people campaign both in New Jersey, Virginia, other places. Are there any Republicans supporting the government plan that you know of, high profile Republicans in the United States?
MR: You know, I haven’t seen anybody that wants to get the government into the health insurance and health industry the way that President Obama does. There is a bill that I think is pretty interesting. It’s called the Wyden-Bennett bill. It’s shaped in large measure after what we did in Massachusetts. It has some other wrinkles. It is…it costs the taxpayers nothing. There is no trillion dollar, or trillion and a half dollar obligation. It has been scored by the CBO as revenue neutral. So it’s an interesting plan. People ought to take a look at that. It’s bipartisan – Republicans, Democrats working on it, and it keeps the government out of the health care and insurance business.
HH: I want to switch to cap and tax and tax and tax, Governor Romney. The massive vote last week, John Boehner took to the House floor, pointed out no one had read it. What’s your assessment of what the Democrats, with a couple of Republicans, passed last week?
MR: Well, I’m not wild about cap and trade as a vehicle to encourage the use of alternative energy. It’s not a very effective way of doing that. It’s hard to measure whether entities that say they’re reducing their emissions are actually doing so. There are all sorts of problems with cap and trade. But this particular cap and trade is far worse than the general concept, because in order to get the votes he needed, the President as well as the Speaker, cut all sorts of special deals with different interest groups in the country. And by the time you get finished, it’s one of the ugliest bills that’s come out of Washington. And it…I spoke with an environmentalist. I said do you think it will reduce the global temperatures by as much as one-tenth of one degree ever? And the answer was no, of course not. This is all about politics. It has nothing to do with global warming or climate change. Regardless of how you feel about that topic, this is a bill that is all about delivering a campaign promise with very little impact in a beneficial way on our nation.
HH: In the course of the campaign of 2007-2008, you debated mostly Republicans, but you all kept your eye on what President Obama was doing. Then you were out there campaigning for McCain-Palin looking at what he said. Has he governed further to the left than he promised, Mitt Romney?
MR: You know, when he ran in the primary, he was so far to the left, that obviously he garnered a huge following among the Democratic faithful. And that’s how I think he won the primary. He was by far the most to the left of the leading candidates. Then when he ran in the general, he said that he was going to be a guy who was going to be governing from the center of the political spectrum, and he was going to bring a new style of politics to Washington, of bipartisanship. I don’t think I’ve seen a more divergent policy than those that you’ve seen come from him. He has pursued a very left agenda, and he has totally frozen out Republican input. You know, I think it’s the kind of worst part of Washington that we had expected that he would try and walk away from. Instead, he’s handed things over to Nancy Pelosi, and her partisanship has really characterized this administration so far.
HH: Last question, Governor Romney, and the PAC that you’re working with, www.freestrongamerica.com, America, www.freestrongamerica.com. The Detroit takeover of GM and Chrysler, it’s your home state, do you think that we’re ever going to get the government out of GM?
MR: I think at some point, we will, but it’s going to be very expensive in the interim. It’s costing us tens of billions of dollars to have bailed General Motors out. It was a mistake. As you know, Hugh, I suggested early on this company ought to be allowed to go bankrupt, restructure on its own. The wrong thing was for the government to get in and start trying to control making cars. You don’t want the Sierra Club telling us what cars ought to look like, or Congressmen telling you which plants you ought to keep open, which dealerships you ought to close based on who’s got the best district. So it’s the wrong way to be running an airline, if you will, or to run a car company. And for that reason, I think the pressure’s going to build to say you know what? President Obama, distribute the shares to the American citizens, and let the American citizens buy and sell the stock as they want to. But get this back into the hands of the people, and get it out of the hands of the bureaucrats in Washington.
HH: The day that happens, I buy a GM car. Mitt Romney, always a pleasure, thank you, Governor.
End of interview.