Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2006, signing into law a landmark bill designed to guarantee virtually all state residents have health insurance
There was some discussion of health care, and of course it was superficial and misleading. That was partly the fault of the candidates, and partly the fault of the moderators, who at one point gave the candidates 30 seconds each to solve America's health-care problems. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich both reasonably observed that this was kind of absurd. But here's something Romney said:
I believe very deeply in the functioning of markets. The work I've done in health care, actually worked as a consultant to the health care industry, to hospitals and various health institutions. I had the occasion of actually acquiring and trying to build health care businesses. I know something about it, and I believe markets work. And what's wrong with our health care system in America is that government is playing too heavy a role. We need to get our markets to work by having the consumer, the patient have a stake in what the cost and quality is of health care, give them the transparency they need to know where the opportunities are for lower cost and better quality, to make sure that the providers offer them the broadest array of options that they could have. And once we have that happening, you'll see us -- 18 percent of our GDP is spent on health care. The next highest nation in the world is 12 percent. It's a huge difference. We have to get the market to work to make sure that we get the kind of quality and value that America deserves.
I'm sorry that we have to keep going over this, but Mitt is right about one thing: We spend more on health care than any other country in the world. But if the problem was that "government is playing too heavy a role," then it must be the case that we have more government involvement than any other country, and their small-government approach to health care is what is saving them money. But of course, the opposite is true: We have more private involvement in health care than any other developed country, yet we spend the most. And those government-heavy systems spend far less than we do, while getting health outcomes as good or better. Here's a chart from a just-released report from the Commonwealth Fund:
I realize this is just pablum from Romney, but it's also an important component of conservative philosophy on health insurance: government is bloated and inefficient, markets work, so if we make the system more private and less public then it will save money. But the proper response from any reporter when presented this argument is, "Governor, is there any evidence that more market involvement in health insurance would save money? Because all the available evidence from here in America and around the world seems to show exactly the opposite." And then let him explain. Maybe he has an answer—anything's possible.
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