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Mr. Romney’s Insurance

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s win in the New Hampshire primary this week cemented his status as the front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. It also means some of his opponents are working overtime to knock him down.

A few days ago Mr. Romney remarked that “I like being able to fire people,” and this quote has been taken out of context and used against him. To be fair to Mr. Romney, he wasn’t saying that he enjoys firing employees. He meant “firing” a health insurance company and taking his business to another one that can provide him with better coverage. And, of course, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

But since Mr. Romney may very well be the Republican presidential nominee, voters need to know what Mr. Romney thinks about providing health care for people. If he is elected, he would have a lot to say about what kind of insurance might be available to you and your family in the future.

And especially if you or a loved one suffers from mesothelioma or other life-threatening disease, do pay attention to what the candidates, including Mr. Romney, think about health care!

For the record, here is the quote from which the “firing” remark was taken:

“I want people to be able to own insurance if they wish to, and to buy it for themselves and perhaps keep it for the rest of their life and to choose among different policies offered from companies across the nation. I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep people healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I’m going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me.”

In other words, he foresees a future in which most people would purchase their own health insurance the same way they purchase their own auto or homeowners insurance, so you wouldn’t lose coverage if you lost your job.

There are very few places in the world, other than the United States, in which private health insurance companies sell policies on an open market. In most countries where most people have access to health care, most health care is paid for by taxpayers. The two notable exceptions — Switzerland and the Netherlands — by law have a mandate that all citizens must purchase insurance from a private company, and the government regulates what the policies will cover and what they will cost.

Hmm, individual mandates, heavy regulations of insurance companies –  the Swiss and Dutch systems have all the elements conservatives hate about “Obamacare.” So where can we see how a real “free market” health insurance system works? There is no such place on this planet, unless you count the United States. And it doesn’t seem to be “working” here.

Ironically, the closest you can come to what Mr. Romney is talking about is Massachusetts, and that’s because of the reforms he pushed through as governor that became the model for “Obamacare.”

In Massachusetts, Mr. Romney has “good insurance options for a 64-year-old unemployed man with a wife who has a preexisting health condition: multiple sclerosis,” writes Margot Sanger-Katz and Meghan McCarthy in National Journal. “Massachusetts law, like a provision of the national health care law set to go into effect in 2014, requires insurers to offer coverage to all comers and limits the amount they can raise premiums because of a customer’s age or health history.”

In the rest of the country — until 2014, when “Obamacare” rules kick in — most of us take whatever health insurance we can get, or do without. Perhaps someone should explain that to Mr. Romney.