On national TV on Sunday morning, with millions of people watching, Mitt Romney told David Gregory that there were parts of Obamacare he actually liked. In fact, he said, one of the goals of his health care plan "is to make sure that those with preexisting conditions can get coverage." A few hours later, with approximately zero people listening, a spokesman quietly "clarified" what he meant:
In reference to how Romney would deal with those with preexisting conditions and young adults who want to remain on their parents’ plans, a Romney aide responded that there had been no change in Romney's position and that "in a competitive environment, the marketplace will make available plans that include coverage for what there is demand for. He was not proposing a federal mandate to require insurance plans to offer those particular features."
As it happens, we already have a competitive market for individual insurance. In addition, we already have demand for coverage of preexisting conditions. And yet, the marketplace doesn't make policies available to people with preexisting conditions.
Why? Because policies that cover preexisting conditions are big money losers unless you charge premiums high enough that no one could afford them. Because of that, nobody bothers to offer them in the first place. That's how the free market works. It would be nice if Romney could explain how he intends to square this circle.
It would also be nice if the mainstream press reported the fact that Romney doesn't plan to make sure those with preexisting conditions can get health coverage just as loudly as they reported his original misstatement. I'm not holding my breath.
UPDATE: BuzzFeed passes along yet another clarification. According to an aide, "Gov. Romney will ensure that discrimination against individuals with preexisting conditions who maintain continuous coverage is prohibited."
This has long been Romney's position, and it's not clear if it's meaningful or not. This kind of protection has been the law of the land since 1996 for people with group coverage. And people who lose group coverage already qualify for individual COBRA coverage for 18 months. So the only way Romney's statement means anything is if he's saying he would pass a law that requires insurance companies to offer permanent individual coverage at a reasonable price to people who lose their group coverage. Needless to say, Romney has never actually committed to that particular detail.
UPDATE 2: And keep in mind that even if Romney did commit to this detail, it's still far, far less than Obamacare's preexisting conditions provision, which is what Romney originally implied he supported. Obamacare simply guarantees that you can get health coverage, full stop, no matter what preexisting conditions you may have.