Fox News has been in full-blown Mitt Romney rehabilitation mode Tuesday. Beginning with Gretchen Carlson through every hour up to this segment on Megyn Kelly's show, they've worked very hard to convince viewers that Mitt Romney's gaffe, "I like to fire people," was taken out of context and unfairly depicts what he said.
We could simply say that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. It's fair game, right? After all, he said those words in that order. Yes, he did, and even in context, he could have said "I like to choose service providers," or something similar. Instead he chose to employ CEO-speak; that is, authoritarian, emperious words that no one likes to think about, much less experience. Being fired sucks. As one who spent a long time in a career as a service provider, I'll vouch for that. Whether it's a client leaving or a boss firing, it's a rotten thing. Still, I believe it's fair to put his remarks in context, and even inside that context, he's wrong. Very wrong, very cynical, and it's actually worse when placed into the context he intended it.
Before I continue, let's stipulate that the very best way to handle health care costs would be single payer. I agree with all of you who say that. But this post is not about that. It is about what we have or are about to have and what Mitt Romney thinks we should have. And firing people.
As the clip at the top shows, Romney was talking about health care, and presumably about how he would change Obamacare after he repealed it, as he has promised to do. Here's the full quote:
I want people to be able to own insurance if they wish to, and to buy it for themselves and perhaps keep it for the rest of their life, and to choose among different policies offered from companies across the nation. I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy.
It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I’m going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me.
In context, it's an awful thing. Presumably, repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would mean repeal of the consumer protection provisions, Rick Santorum has come right out with that declaration, specifically saying insurers should have the right to exclude people for pre-existing conditions and actually telling the mom of a 5-year old cancer survivor that people sick with chronic conditions bring it on themselves. Just today, Mitt Romney told an uninsured New Hampshire woman that Obamacare was to blame for her plight.
So let's play out the Romney scenario in context. He wants what all Republicans want. A full repeal of Obamacare, voucherized Medicare, and sales of health insurance across state lines subject only to regulation in their home office state. This would be the same structure that brought us credit cards with 79.9 percent effective annual interest rates. There's a reason those companies are located in South Dakota or Delaware, and it's not because it was good for consumers.
So Mitt Romney, in context, says he wants people to be able to buy insurance and for it to be plans they want, and they should be able to shop nationwide for them. The implication is that there should be no minimum benefit structure nor should there be parity between what those with pre-existing conditions are charged and those without such limitations.
Oh, and they should be able to fire the companies not giving good service, which would be just wonderful except for those pesky pre-existing conditions. When pre-existing conditions exist as a barrier between people and health insurance, they don't have the option of firing people. They don't have the option of moving to a different area to look for work, they don't have the option of changing companies, and they don't have the option in many cases to even get health insurance. If they do manage to get coverage it will likely be limited, expensive, or cover virtually nothing but catastrophic illness, which is better than nothing but still leaves families vulnerable as I'll describe in a companion post to this one.
Mitt Romney's comment is arrogant, out of touch, and indicates a callousness toward everyday people who are barely hanging on by a thread but are starting to see some light at the end of a very long tunnel. Whether it's taking some sadistic pleasure in firing people, or it's a more theoretical look at how the privileged and healthy few are the only ones with a choice now and in his envisioned future, it's a terrible thing to say.
There's one final reason it's terrible in context. Everything Mitt Romney said in that little speech was a bald-faced lie. He was suggesting that under Obamacare there would be no choice of plans or companies. There would be no choice of benefits. There would be no option other than some kind of government-determined option. That's lying, straight up. All of us out there who believe single-payer health care is the right way to go know that it's a lie, because the insurance companies' involvement was what we had hoped to eliminate with reform.
Under the Affordable Care Act, policies are required to meet certain minimums. They're required to limit copayments to certain maximums. They can't exclude people for pre-existing conditions and they can't charge them more for having them. Romney knows how this works better than anyone else running for the Republican nomination, because Massachusetts is the first state to have implemented a program like this. Yet he stood in front of those people and implied that the Affordable Care Act contained some kind of "dictatorial" government-run health care program that steps on and eliminates private insurance.
If only, right?
Context, or no context, Mitt Romney's comment was just cold and harsh. He deserves to have his competitors shove it back in his face now, just as I will be happy to make my own ringtone and shove it back in his face when he is nominated by the Republican party. Every time they go after health care reform, it strengthens my resolve to see Republicans marginalized for the next hundred years. Or longer.