RELEASE: Remarks from Martha Coakley, Jonathan Gruber on How Romneycare Became a Model for Obamacare

Washington, D.C. — Today Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Economist Jonathan Gruber joined CAP Action’s Tara McGuinness for a press call to discuss how Romneycare was implemented successfully in Massachusetts and how Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s policy became a model for the Affordable Care Act.

Coakley helped steer the debate over health care in her state, and Gruber sits on the independent agency in Massachusetts that helps residents find health insurance and avoid penalties. During the call, the experts discussed how Massachusetts achieved almost universal coverage through both incentives and a penalty for those who fail to purchase health insurance.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the press call.

Key quotations from the experts:

Dr. Jonathan Gruber, professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

“We have an empirical basis for understanding how the Affordable Care Act will work. This is a rare example of where a laboratory of democracy has spoken. In Massachusetts we’ve run the experiment and it has succeeded. We’ve covered two-thirds of our uninsured citizens. We have raised private health insurance coverage. We are the only state—one of the only states in the nation—where employer-sponsored health insurance actually went up instead of down in this recession. We have done so with broad public support of about two-thirds, and we’ve fixed a broken nongroup health insurance market lowering our premiums by more than half.”

“This is not a broad new tax on the middle class as some people have randomly been throwing out there. We have less than 1 percent of our population, about 44,000 people out of 6 million, that are paying the penalty this year. They are paying $1,200 because they’d prefer to pay that instead of having health insurance and that’s their choice. You know, it’s America, let them have that choice, that’s what we do. If they decide they want to pay the penalty instead of having health insurance, they are allowed to do that. It’s not a tax on the middle class. It’s a choice they’re making that they would rather stay out of the medical care system and pay the cost of their doing so.”

“… let’s be clear as Gov. Romney emphasized back in 2005: If you do not have health insurance, you are free-riding on the system because what you are doing without health insurance is you are relying on the emergency room for your care and when you go to the emergency room and get that care, you cost the rest of the system money. So what we imposed is to say, ‘look, that is fine if you want to make that choice, but you need to compensate society for the cost you’re imposing.’ That’s what this penalty does and that’s what it does at the national level."

“… the Congressional Budget Committee estimates that about 1 percent of the population will end up paying this penalty. This is not a broad new tax on the middle class. It is trivial. CBO estimates it is $4 billion in revenues from this penalty. That is trivial relative to the almost $100 billion that you would get in in new tax credits given to individuals to buy health insurance. So this is on net an enormous tax cut for the middle class. This is not a tax increase.”

Martha Coakley, Massachusetts Attorney General:

“I am hopeful that people will look at facts and not be frightened by predictions that haven’t proven to be true here in Massachusetts and will not be true if people are honest and are focused on the problem-solving piece of trying to get access to quality health care for people in this country.”

“All of these issues that have been raised are frankly, I believe, red herrings about how something could go wrong. And if people are determined to not implement health care because they raise these red herrings, then I think their motivation should be questioned.”

Tara McGuinness, Senior VP for the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

“For years now, the opponents of the bill have been assaulting what is now the health care law for its lack of constitutional credibility. Yesterday those questions were put to rest and are over. Now they have new reasons for why the health care cannot move on any further and be implemented, they are disguised in some of the attacks that were described [on this call]. But there is real peril in this assault. As Republicans take a punch at health care law, aiming at President Obama, it appears that their attacks could land on Mitt Romney, who very clearly made the case for this policy in Massachusetts.

Related resources:

CAP Action experts available for comment:

  • Tara McGuinness, Senior VP for the Center for American Progress Action Fund
  • Igor Volsky, Health Policy Expert and Deputy Editor, Think Progress

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