Yes, Mitt Romney Flip-Flopped on the Mandate


Earlier this week, Glenn Kessler, author of The Washington Post's Fact Checker column, took issue with the following Democratic National Committee ad accusing Mitt Romney of flip-flopping on his support for requiring people to buy health insurance:

Kessler says the accusation doesn't fly:

Romney has been consistent in saying that he would apply a state-based approach to health care. He has said the individual mandate worked well for Massachusetts, he may have even predicted that most other states would eventually adopt it, but he has never advocated or supported a federal mandate — as contained in the president's law.

Romney may not have ever said "I support a federal mandate to purchase health insurance" in so many words, but if you look at his record, it's hard to conclude that he did not support copying the Massachusetts plan at the federal level, including the mandate—which is essentially what Democrats did with ObamaCare. 

As Kessler notes, Romney has repeatedly stated his belief that the Massachusetts plan should be a model for the nation. Sometimes he has said that the plan can provide lessons for other states. But at other times, he has recommended that Washington's leaders, including President Obama, follow the Bay State's lead. As Matt Welch previously noted, in a 2009 USA Today op-ed framed as a message to the president (title: "Mr. President, What's the Rush?"), Romney criticized the legislative process of previous Obama administration priorities and declared: "There's a better way. And the lessons we learned in Massachusetts could help Washington find it." Among those lessons? 

Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn't have to break the bank. First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages "free riders" to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others. This doesn't cost the government a single dollar. [bold added]

There you have it. In the summer of 2009, as the health care debate was reaching one of its most heated moments, Romney argued to President Obama that the federal government would be well served by adopting Massachusetts-style tax penalties for the uninsured—in other words, a mandate. 

The Romney campaign maintains that this doesn't prove anything. The campaign claims that Romney was merely suggesting that those who decline to purchase health insurance should be required to forego a tax credit or deduction. In a separate Newsweek op-ed, published several months earlier than the USA Today piece, Romney makes this suggestion. 

Even if this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it's not much of a defense. In that same piece, Romney frames these policies as possible ways to "get everyone insured," which, despite talk of "unleashing market forces," he seems to believe is the job of government policymakers. It's clear, then, that Romney favors reworking the tax code in order to penalize the uninsured. But please don't call it a mandate! 

More to the point, however, is that the USA Today op-ed is very open in arguing that federal policymakers, President Obama in particular, can learn lessons from the policies implemented in Massachusetts, which has a mandate. Yet since then, he's denied ever favoring a federal mandate. And for the most part, he's gotten away with it. 

Read my cover story on Romney from the March issue.