An MIT economist who helped Mitt Romney design his health insurance program in Massachusetts says that the then-governor used reasoning and language very similar to that of Chief Justice John Roberts in arguing for the necessity of an individual mandate.
"It's a penalty for free riding on the system. That's the way Gov. Romney talked about it," saidJonathan Gruber, who later became one of the key architects of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, which was modeled in part on the Romney law. "Justice Roberts used similar language today" in his opinion upholding what Romney and the Republicans have since denounced as "Obamacare." Although Roberts said that Congress did not have the right to mandate behavior, it did retain the right to "tax and spend," including to penalize people for not buying health care coverage.
Back in the early 2000s, when Gruber demonstrated to Romney with computer models that, absent an individual mandate, one-third of Massachusetts' poorest and sickest would remain uninsured (and drive up costs for everyone), the governor jumped on the point, instantly converted, Gruber said. Romney went at the problem "like a management consultant or an engineer," even against the advice of his conservative political advisers, the economist said. "They were concerned about the politics of universal health care. He argued them down."
Today, Gruber said, Romney has been handed the greatest vindication of his career as a policymaker--and he's running away from it. "He's completely disingenuous," Gruber contended. "There is a total disconnect between who Romney was in Massachusetts and what we're seeing now."