Amidst the flurry of political jockeying leading up to this week’s GOP primary in South Carolina, a funny thing has happened: the importance of repealing Obamacare has faded from public attention. During the most recent debate in New Hampshire, for instance, the president’s signature law was mentioned just three times.
The GOP needs to refocus. There’s no single move the next president could make that would more effectively revitalize this country than the repeal of Obamacare.
The American people would support such an effort. A Rasmussen survey released this month found that 54 percent of likely voters are at least slightly in favor of repealing Obamacare. Just 39 percent are opposed.
Similarly, a Quinnipiac University poll in November found that 47 percent of all Americans — not just likely voters — support repeal. Independents favor repeal by a 44 to 41 percent margin.
Unfortunately, the GOP man most likely to occupy the Oval Office come 2013 — Mitt Romney — has the spottiest track record when it comes to health reform. Obamacare represents a virtual carbon copy of the health reforms Romney approved while governor of Massachusetts.
Take just two examples. Most of the folks expected to gain coverage thanks to Obamacare — 18 million — are simply being thrown into Medicaid, the health-insurance program for low-income Americans managed by the states and funded jointly by federal and state governments.
The same goes for Romneycare. Of the 442,000 Bay State residents insured since the reform plan was enacted in 2006, 80,000 are enrolled in Medicaid; 176,000 have a publicly subsidized plan.
Further, Obamacare is set to push individual insurance premiums by up 10 to 13 percent over the next four years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By 2016, the average individual insurance policy will cost $5,800 annually. The average family policy will run $15,200.
Thanks to Romneycare, Massachusetts residents are enjoying those insurance rate hikes before everyone else. Family health premiums in the state are the highest in the country — nearly $14,000 per year. Economists at Stanford and Columbia University found that the law’s passage increased premiums for employer-sponsored insurance by about 6 percent.
Romney has done his best to distance himself from his handiwork. During his New Hampshire primary victory speech, he explicitly said of Obamacare, “I’ll repeal it.”
But back in April 2010, Romney told a crowd that he’s more in favor of a piecemeal reform approach focused on “repeal[ing] the bad [of Obamacare] and keep[ing] the good.”
Voters can be forgiven for their skepticism about Romney’s commitment to repealing the law. If he’d like to secure the nomination, he’d be wise to admit that he thought his brand of health reform was a good idea when he signed the bill into law — but that he now realizes it has not resulted in universal coverage or reduced costs in Massachusetts.
The records for the other candidates are mixed as well. Rick Santorum has waxed eloquent on market-based health care. But back in the 1990s, he got behind an individual mandate. A 1994 report in the Lehigh Valley Morning Call — published in the middle of the health reform fight — described Santorum as preferring to “require individuals to buy health insurance rather than forcing employers to pay for employee benefits.”
Newt Gingrich has made repealing Obamacare the top item in his updated “Contract with America.” He claims he’s “against any effort to impose a federal mandate.” And yet a recently unearthed newsletter from his former consulting firm praised Romneycare, saying “we agree entirely with Governor Romney and the Massachusetts legislators.”
Ron Paul is the only candidate who has been consistent in his opposition to Obamacare since voting against its passage in 2010. As Paul put it, if lawmakers don’t repeal the measure, then “the bankruptcy of this country is gonna repeal it.”
At present, the GOP nominees are saying all the right things about repealing Obamacare. But many of their past actions and statements do not inspire confidence. With ten more months until Election Day, they still have time to change that.