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May 14. 2011 10:18PM

Romney rights: States vs. individuals

Mitt Romney tried on Thursday to show that his 2006 Massachusetts health care reform is fundamentally different from Obamacare. But as Romney waded into the weeds of health care policy, he committed the same error he so often made during his 2008 run for the Republican presidential nomination. He failed to match his policy to his professed philosophy.

The sticking point is the individual mandate. Both Romneycare and Obamacare force individuals to buy health insurance. Romney says Obamacare is bad because the U.S. Constitution does not give Washington the authority to make such a mandate. So far, so good. States, though, have no such restriction, he says.

Romney’s justification for a state individual mandate is the same as Obama’s justification of a federal one: It eliminates the “free-rider” problem. Uninsured people pass their costs on to the taxpayers when they get health care and cannot pay for it themselves. Romney and Obama both agree that the solution is to make everyone carry insurance. Obama thinks Washington should do that, and Romney thinks states may, and in some cases should.

At the start of his speech, Romney said “the people in America are sovereign” and have the “freedom to choose our life’s course.” So how can states mandate behavior, as Romneycare does? In an interview on Thursday, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom provided some clarity.

“Each state should be free, as Massachusetts was, to pursue their own solutions,” he said. “Each state should have that liberty and that freedom to come up with their own solutions. That should be part of the liberties that we permit the states to enjoy.”

What about the liberty of the people? “That’s fine until the point where we get to the point where people don’t purchase insurance when they can afford to, and they go to the hospital when they get sick and the rest of us have to pay for it,” Fehrnstrom said.

And there it is. In pursuit of the “liberty” to collectively finance charity health care, states may negate the liberty of the individual. We suspect that most Republicans would define states’ rights very differently.

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