When Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour went out of his way in Washington this week to disrespect Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health reform law, it was understandably covered as a political story. Yes, Barbour’s snark was yet another indication that Romney is going to have to defend “RomneyCare,” and try to distinguish it from “ObamaCare,” virtually every day on the 2012 presidential campaign trail. I’m among the considerable number of political observers who don’t think he’ll be able to successfully pull that off.
But pure politics aside, Barbour’s statement offers a rare candid glimpse into the underlying thinking of conservatives about health reform that is often buried under all the rhetoric about “socialism” and “government takeover of health care” and “death panels” and so forth. TNR’s Jonathan Cohn pointed this out in a very succinct manner:
Perhaps the best testimonial for the Romney plan comes from its most recent critic. That would be Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who on Tuesday told a congressional committee that his state wanted nothing to do with Massachusetts-style reforms. “We don’t want community rating. We don’t want extremely high mandatory standard benefits packages.”
Community rating, of course, is the practice of charging the same premium to different customers, even the diabetics and cancer survivors. “Extremely high mandatory standard benefits packages” in this particular case means insurance plans that cover what most of us would define as basic care, without gaps and loopholes that force the chronically and severely ill to pay exorbitant bills.
Insurance available to all. Benefits that include the services sick people need. Yeah, why would anybody want that?
Democrats really need to do a better job of focusing on these fundamentals. The whole idea of health reform is to make affordable insurance available to people the private markets have excluded. This idea is, in fact, demonstrably popular. When a Republican leader like Haley Barbour comes right out and says he prefers the status quo ante on health care even if it means no insurance or extremely costly insurance for basic coverage, he needs to be called on it early and often.