A conservative think tank indignantly denies influencing Obamacare.
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It's no surprise that Mitt Romney bent himself into a pretzel to disavow the portions of Obamacare that derive from his own reform in Massachusetts. Romney is a politician, and even politicians with more spine than Romney (i.e., nearly all of them) are sometimes forced into awkward postures by the shifting dynamics of electoral politics. But naif that I am, I figured the conservative think tanks that developed these same policies would, if they couldn't bring themselves to claim authorship, at least maintain a discreet silence. I was wrong.
"Obama's Health Reform Isn't Modeled After Heritage Foundation Ideas" reads the headline of an April 19 op-ed in the Washington Post. The author, Robert Moffit, is director of Heritage's Center for Health Policy Studies. Moffit's piece is a response to President Obama's comment, in a March 30 an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today, that the idea for health-insurance exchanges "originated from the Heritage Foundation." Actually, Heritage didn't invent the exchanges idea, but it certainly helped develop it. In his new book No Apology, Romney writes:
[T]o make it easier for insurers to service individual customers, the state would create a "connector" or "exchange" that would collect premiums and pass them on to the insurers. The Heritage Foundation helped us construct an exchange that would make individual premium payments tax-advantaged, lowering costs even further.
Until recently, Heritage was quite willing to associate itself with Romneycare, but that appears to have changed. The words Romney and Massachusetts appear nowhere in Moffit's op-ed, probably because the Conintern has lately concluded that Obamacare renders Romney damaged goods. (See this withering Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, this dismissal from the libertarian Club For Growth, this video from David Boaz and Michael F. Cannon of Cato, and this editorial from the Wall Street Journal, which called Obamacare and Romneycare "fraternal policy twins." Ouch!)
Obama's comment to Lauer clearly alarmed Heritage. Its president, Ed Feulner, posted a blog itemthat same day to protest "this misuse of our work and abuse of our name." He wrote, "True exchanges are simply a market mechanism to enable families to choose their health insurance. President Obama's exchanges, by contrast, are a vehicle to introduce sweeping regulation." But under Romneycare, as under Obamacare, government sets minimum standards (i.e., creates regulations) concerning what health insurers may cover. Feulner steered around this by avoiding, like Moffit, any mention of the now-leprous Romney.
The next day, Heritage posted a snippet from Rush Limbaugh's radio show to refute yet again the president's scandalous attribution. Limbaugh said:
[Y]ou just heard it, [Obama] tried to explain that the insurance exchange he envisions being built by government is an idea that came from Heritage in the first place! And nothing could be further from the truth! Heritage approves of a market-driven approach that allows families to choose their own health insurance, not government bureaucrats. … There's nothing in this that Republicans suggested. Nothing at all! The Heritage Foundation never once has proposed government-run exchanges.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.