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September 9, 2012

Mitt Romney’s healthcare comments flunk basic economics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:37 pm

I am trying to stay away from politics as much as possible this election cycle, but pandering, economic nonsense and journalistic incompetence get under my skin.

Mitt Romney said today on Meet the Press that he wants to preserve the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that insurers cover pre-existing conditions. From the Reuters story:

“Of course, there are a number of things that I like in healthcare reform that I’m going to put in place,” Romney added. “One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like.”

Romney has also said that he would repeal ACA because of the individual mandate. That’s like saying I am going to eat all the cake I want and I won’t get fat. It doesn’t work that way. Economically speaking, the individual mandate and coverage for pre-existing conditions are tied at the hip.

Any sort of universal coverage (and forced coverage of pre-existing conditions is a form of universal coverage) requires that healthy people pay into a system to help offset the cost of treating the sick. Without the individual mandate, insurance companies would go broke paying for sick patients who had pre-existing conditions because there wouldn’t be enough healthy people paying premiums.

In fact, forcing insurers to cover pre-existing conditions in the absence of an individual mandate would make health insurance’s adverse selection problem even worse. Right now, many healthy people purchase individual coverage because they’re worried that if they get sick they won’t be able to buy insurance. When I lived in Malaysia, I bought U.S. health insurance even though I was healthy because I wanted to continue to have the option for coverage in case I did get sick. I paid $110 a month for high deductible, catastrophic coverage and never made one claim on that policy. Take away that deterrent and healthy people would wait until they got sick to buy health insurance. Imagine buying car insurance only after you got into an accident.

The fact that Romney would make such a claim indicates that he’s:

  • A terrible business person who doesn’t understand basic economics.
  • Will say anything to get elected, even if it’s economically impossible.
  • Both.

It’s also ridiculous that David Gregory didn’t challenge Romney on the notion that he could keep the requirement to cover pre-existing conditions while eliminating the individual mandate. Either Gregory didn’t understand that the two are inextricably linked or he didn’t want to appear to be biased. Neither scenario paints a good picture for the state of journalism today.

Too often, journalists let claims like this slide. In this election cycle, more than ever, journalists have off-loaded that work to “fact checkers”. Sorry, but that’s a key part of a journalists job. It’s a sad state of affairs when Jon Stewart is doing more to challenge his guests than the host of Meet the Press.

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