If health care was a net negative for Mitt Romney in the primaries, the Supreme Court decision may now make the issue a net positive for him in the general election. This is because health care continues to be a huge worry for millions of swing voters, and Romney can critique the Court’s decision with credibility. Unlike too many Republicans, Romney’s actually tried to do something to lower costs and improve access to coverage.
It’s easy for conservatives to talk about market-based solutions to the stubborn issues of rising costs and gaps in insurance. But when you or someone you care for faces a health care emergency, you do not tend to look at the issue ideologically. Your top concerns are, in order: Can we treat this? Are we covered? Can we afford what needs to be done? And even if the answers are “maybe, not sure, and don’t know,” you proceed anyway.
Anxiety about these issues drives voter concerns even when they aren’t facing an emergency today. Everyone knows it’s only a matter of time before they or someone they care about gets that call or that diagnosis that changes everything.
Health care issues are intensely personal, not political. Conservatives have to understand that as we craft our responses to the Supreme Court decision. Swing voters will not appreciate conservatives who just complain about the Court’s decision without offering a positive alternative – and that plan cannot be “don’t get hurt and don’t get sick.” Voters who had doubts about the President’s approach still want to see reform and change. Defending the status quo on health care is a losing position.
Republicans made a mistake in 1994 when, in celebrating the demise of HillaryCare, the party walked away from the issue and ceded it back to big-government Democrats. The party cannot make the same mistake now, and with Romney as the party’s nominee, it won’t.
Nor will Romney make the same mistakes President Obama’s healthcare effort did. In a time when concern about debt is as strong as it’s ever been, a Romney plan, unlike the President’s, will recognize there are limits to what we can afford. Americans are ready for a conversation about how Medicare is driving the national debt, how expanding Medicaid threatens state budgets – and how the President’s approach could bankrupt the country, whether Constitutional or not.
Voters are looking for health care reform that stops runaway costs and expands access to insurance without blowing a hole in Federal and State budgets. President Obama’s effort doesn’t do this. Now the Republicans have their opportunity to propose an alternative that addresses voters real concerns without bankrupting the country in the process.
Fergus@ferguscullen.com, June 28, 2012