Personal Responsibility Principle

By Beacon Staff

In February 2008, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney carried Flathead County and won Montana’s GOP caucus, earning all 25 of the state’s delegates to the Republican National Convention.

Former Secretary of State Brad Johnson was part of the Romney team and said, “Governor Romney has the right values and priorities for voters not only in Montana, but across the country.” Romney withdrew from the Republican primary race two days after the caucus vote.

Two years prior to first running for president, Romney had enacted a historic health care insurance reform law, which mandated that nearly every Massachusetts resident obtain a minimum level of health insurance coverage. Romney sold the idea by labeling it a “personal responsibility principle.”

Back on the 2008 presidential campaign trail, Romney said, “When I set out to find a way to get everybody health insurance, I couldn’t have cared less and I don’t care less about how it works politically. In my view it’s the right thing to do. It’s a key issue that faces many, many people across this country that don’t have health insurance.”

Today, Romney’s health care law is viewed as his biggest political liability in the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

Recently Romney said he would start leading America with “a complete repeal of Obamacare.” Most see this as pure political rhetoric, given that much of the national insurance reform was modeled after the Massachusetts system.

Back in the early 1990s the idea of the individual health insurance mandate originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation. In 1993 congressional Republicans introduced the Consumer Choice Health Security Act, cosponsored by former Montana Sen. Conrad Burns. The bill provided for universal coverage through federal entitlements and individual mandates.

Republicans were pushing for the individual mandate, whereas many Democrats favored a public option. In a dizzying roundabout, Democrats passed a “personal responsibility” into law, leaving Republicans to support neither option.

In 2010 President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. Along with the mandate, 165,000 Montana seniors under the existing single payer Medicare program can now see doctors for free annual wellness visits and receive free preventive treatments.

This year Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed Senate Bill 125, carried by Sen. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, into law. SB 125 prohibits the state from administering the new federal law’s requirement that all Montanans must have health insurance by 2014. Schweitzer said, “They ought not to have a mandate unless we have a public option.”

Back in Massachusetts “Romenycare” is popular. Ninety-eight percent of Massachusetts residents are now insured and this occurred with relatively little cost to the state. Romney’s health insurance reform costs the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1 percent of its budget.

Romney has the business acumen to recognize that America will be less competitive in a world when every other industrialized country has universal health care. Massachusetts residents chose to ignore the national debate over health insurance reform and instead appreciate stabilized premiums and near universal coverage.

Montana is not Massachusetts. Montana Republican legislators spent a good part of the 2011 session persuading the public that locals do not need national health insurance reform.

Politicians that incessantly demagogue healthcare reform sound similar in plenty of states. This leaves middle class families wondering how so many elected leaders are out-of-touch with the real need for affordable health care.

With his name recognition and business focus, Mitt Romney is currently the national frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. An Obama versus Romney presidential bout may very well materialize.

But because of the health care law in Massachusetts, former Governor Romney will be hard pressed to win Montana’s electoral delegates in this year’s open primary. GOP insiders handed Romney the 2008 delegates in a closed caucus, but the 2012 Montana GOP presidential primary will prove to be quite another matter.

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