Romney: Obamacare fiasco "rotting" Obama's second term

Former Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers remarks during the second day of the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference March 15, 2013, in National Harbor, Md.
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In defending the problematic rollout of Obamacare's insurance exchanges, President Obama has pointed to the growing pains of Massachusetts' own health-care reform program, which provided the template for federal reform, to argue that all of the kinks will eventually be smoothed out.

Not so, says the Massachusetts program's architect, former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., who challenged Mr. Obama for the presidency in 2012.

"I think the president failed to learn the lessons that came from the experience of Massachusetts," Romney said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"First of all, the Massachusetts experience was a state-run plan. The right way to deal with health care reform is not to have a one-size-fits-all plan that's imposed on all the states," he explained. "And there's some other differences. In Massachusetts, we phased in the requirements so that there was a slow rollout. That way you could test the systems as you went along to make sure there wouldn't be glitches."

But the president's biggest mistake, Romney said, was telling Americans they could keep their plans if they liked them. And that bout of "fundamental dishonesty," he suggested, is "rotting" the foundation of the president's second term.

The president insisted "time and time again that fundamental to his plan was the right people would have to keep their insurance plan," Romney said. "And he knew that was not the case. He could know it by looking at Massachusetts and seeing people there lost insurance. He could have learned those lessons and told the people the truth, but he didn't."

Romney also suggested if the president had "been truthful" about the possibility that people could lose their current insurance plans, the law "would not have passed."

Romney's most damning charge - that the president lied about people being able to keep their insurance - has emerged as the focal point for Republicans who have broadened their critique of the law's rollout beyond just the website problems.

"You've seen not only the problems with the website," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Sunday on CNN. "But it's much deeper than the website, including so many Americans that are getting cancellation notices right now."

Given the law's problems, Ayotte urged the president to call a "time-out" and "convene a group of bipartisan leaders to address health care concerns in this country, because this is not working."

And former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., said on "Fox News Sunday " that it made his "blood boil" when the president compared Obamacare to the Massachusetts health-care reform bill.

"Two different plans," he insisted. "Our plan didn't raise taxes, didn't cut Medicare as this one does. And it's not really about even a website. It's about more than that."

Democrats, for their part, mounted a robust pushback, with key lawmakers and officials saying the president did not mislead Americans about keeping their insurance, and insisting that, despite the rocky rollout, the law would soon function optimally.

Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., who succeeded Romney as Massachusetts' governor, said it was neither a broken promise nor a deception when the president assured Americans that they would be able to keep their plans.

"For 95 percent of the people in America, that is the truth," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "For the small number of people who have a health care plan which in fact will not insure them when they get sick, it is not true. And that's the whole point. If you have a preexisting condition, if you have the kind of health care that disappears when you need it most, the Affordable Care Act says that has to end."

Patrick suggested that, as the website problems fade, the law's benefits would become more apparent.

"If the website is permanently flawed, we've got a serious problem," he said. "But we've got a rollout problem. It's been, what, three or four weeks? It took us two years to get our website right in Massachusetts, and now we have virtually universal coverage. 90 percent of our residents have a primary care physician. We are healthier. It has not broken the budget. More businesses offer insurance to their employees than ever before, one of the highest levels in the country. And it is approved by 84 percent of our population."

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a former adviser to the president who played a central role in crafting the law, said on "Fox News Sunday" that Americans whose coverage has been dropped should blame the insurance companies or their employers, not the president.

"The law does not say, 'Sears drop coverage.' Sears decides what's good for Sears. The law doesn't say to the insurance industry, you drop coverage. The insurance industry decides how it's going to make money," he said. "When the private companies decide that they're going to drop people or put them in the exchange, you blame President Obama. He is not responsible for that."

When Fox News' Chris Wallace pointed out that many insurers are dropping coverage because their plans did not comply with Obamacare's requirements, Emanuel said it's because those plans offered substandard coverage that would not prevent consumers from shifting costs onto others or protect against personal bankruptcy.

"If someone receives medical care and "insurance doesn't cover enough, which is typically what happens with these very low cost plans...we who are insured pay the difference. That's call cost shifting," he said. "The second thing is, just as we have safety standards for cars, you can't buy a car without a seat belt. You can't buy a car without an air bag. You can drive them, we're not going to take you off the road. But if you're going to buy a new car, you have to have safety [features.]"

Despite the forceful defense presented by Democrats, some signs of anxiety began to shine through. On CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she counseled the administration to take the website offline while it undergoes repairs - a suggestion that apparently went unheeded by the administration.

"It's pretty clear, I think, to those of us who have been watching this rollout, that the technological base was not sufficient, and that the website didn't function," she said. "You know, I felt, and I said this directly to the President's chief of staff, that they ought to take down the website until it was right. They believe that they need to keep it running and that they can sort out the difficulties, that they brought in technological experts from a broad base of the private sector and that by the end of November, it can be sorted out and be functioning properly."

"The fact is there's a problem with the start up," she said. "I won't go so far right now as to say the plan isn't going to work."