Desperately seeking to change the narrative from the embarrassing rollout of a key aspect of his health care law, President Barack Obama on Wednesday will be praising the signature achievement of his vanquished opponent in last year’s election.
The president will travel to Boston to deliver remarks at Faneuil Hall, the colonial-era meeting and marketplace where in 2006 then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was joined by Sen. Ted Kennedy and other supporters to sign a state health care law that included an individual mandate to buy coverage and established a health insurance marketplace, and later became the model for Obamacare.
The problem is that so-called “Romneycare” has been filled with problems at the state level that could multiply at the national level, said Joshua Archambault, director of health care policy at the Pioneer Institute, a free market think tank that focuses on Massachusetts and national public policy issues.
For one, the state designed the 2006 law around demographics, something the federal law does not take into account.
“Massachusetts knew who their uninsured were, they knew their names, they knew where they lived because they collected data where they showed up at the emergency rooms. Massachusetts auto-enrolled,” Archambault told TheBlaze. “The federal law has less of a chance of identifying all those people.”
Even with the targeting, the law has not affected costs, he said. According to the think tank data, the cost of an emergency room visit actually increased by 35.6 percent from 2006 to 2010 and premiums are still the highest in the nation.
“The Massachusetts reform hasn’t had any meaningful impact on cost,” Archambault said. “I’m not alone in saying that. The Democratic governor and Democratic legislature have revisited this every two years to address costs. It hasn’t done a great job at containing costs.”
But Jon Kingsdale, the founding executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector, the state’s version of the exchange, insists that Romneycare has made the insurance market more competitive.
“I definitely agree it has enhanced competition,” Kingsdale said during a White House conference call with reporters. “It takes time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Touting Romneycare is something that happens during public relations disasters for Obamacare, though the White House said there was no effort to reach out to Romney to include him in Wednesday’s event.
The administration is scrambling to repair a broken website where people were supposed to be able to choose health insurance from a list of federal government-approved plans.
Obama’s speech also comes amid reports that the administration knew the law would force some people to lose their health care plans even as the president was promising anyone who liked their current policy could keep it.
Insisting on the success of the program he helped start, Kingsdale pointed out that after the 2006 overhaul, the number of residents with access to a doctor increased from 80 percent to 90 percent, and the number of people getting preventative care increased from 75 percent in 2006 to 78 percent in 2009.
“There are a bunch of myths about Massachusetts. One is that we have a shortage of doctors,” Kingsdale said.
Indeed there is no doctor shortage, Archambault said, but the problem of wait times has increased for many in the state.
“Massachusetts still has the highest per capita doctor-patient ratio in the country,” Archambault said. “The problem is in certain parts of the state, after you put in the system people that haven’t been insured for a long time. It can take 35 to 40 days to get an appointment. Other states that don’t have as many doctors could have more problems than Massachusetts.”
Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who consulted with both Romney and Obama in developing the state and later federal plans, said Massachusetts residents feel more secure under Romneycare.
“There is evidence that people feel more financially secure about their health care,” Gruber said.
Massachusetts has asked for a waiver from certain provisions of Obamacare, and the Department of Health and Human Services has granted the state grace periods. The state was given a two-year delay to phase out its rating system — factors insurance companies use such as a person’s tobacco use and wellness plans at work — to comply with the federal law, which has different standards. Health and Human Services also gave Massachusetts a two-year delay from the requirement that insurance companies set rates once per year.