“RomneyCare cost $8 billion.”
“RomneyCare killed 18,000 jobs.”
-- Text from an ad about Mitt Romney’s healthcare law, sponsored by the Rick Perry campaign, October 10, 2011
Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched an ad Monday attacking Mitt Romney on the healthcare-reform law that not so affectionately bears his name among conservatives. The overall theme of the ad--that Romney’s health care law is intellectual father of Obama’s law--is correct. But then it goes even further than that.
The ad, strikingly similar to a Hollywood movie trailer in terms of its quality and dramatic effect, paints “RomneyCare” as an economic disaster similar to the way conservatives portray Obama’s national healthcare law. (Much of Obama’s law has not been implemented yet, so that is a bit premature.)
The ad also flashes images of Obama, Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, delivering an almost subliminal message that Romney is akin to those liberal icons.
The ad continues with a line disappearing from Romney’s book “No Apologies,” suggesting the GOP front-runner has changed his tune in regard to whether the plan would work for the entire nation.
Perry’s attack doesn’t stop there. The ad shows a cleverly trimmed excerpt from an interview in which the late :Meet the Press” host Tim Russert asks Romney why he wouldn’t apply his reform plan to the rest of the country. Romney replies, “I would.”
We delved into the two reports that Perry’s campaign relied on for its claims about the negative impacts of the Massachusetts healthcare-reform plan. We also looked at the full transcript of Romney’s interview with Russert to find out whether the ad left out anything important.
We’ve already scrutinized Perry’s attack on the Romney book edits, so we won’t spend any more time on that. Suffice it to say we awarded three Pinocchios to the Texas governor for manufacturing a phony issue.
The Perry campaign based its economic claims off two studies from the Massachusetts-based Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative group affliated with Suffolk University in Boston known for its hostility toward taxes and insurance mandates.
One of the reports, “The High Price of Massachusetts Health Care Reform,” suggests the average cost of family premiums has increased more than it would have without “RomneyCare.” It also calculates the cumulative cost of the Bay State plan at about $8 billion, which supposedly sums up insurance costs along with state and federal expenditures.
The other analysis, “The Economic Effects of Massachusetts Health Care Reform,” concludes that “the state economy created 18,313 fewer jobs in 2010 than it would have had healthcare reform not been in place.”
That’s not quite the same as “killing” 18,000 jobs, or laying off that many people. It just means that the state missed out on some job-creation opportunities – at least under Beacon’s computer model.
Studies like these present a problem because projecting what “could have been” is not an exact science. Studies from different sources yield different results, depending on which organization produces the analysis and how they use the data.
David Tuerck and Paul Bachman, who helped author of the Beacon reports, said they used a complex technique known as “regression analysis” to show that premiums would have been lower without Romney’s law. You have to be pretty good at statistics to understand how that works, but the end result under their formula is that post-reform premiums come out to be about $1,000 more expensive.
A simpler way of looking at this – although not necessarily better – is to project the rate of pre-reform increases outward to find out how they compare with real-world costs in later years. This method shows that premiums are about $400 cheaper under Romney’s law than they otherwise would have been. This doesn’t disprove the Beacon analysis but demonstrates there is another way of looking at the issue. (Factcheck.org last month published a skeptical appraisal of Beacon’s 18,000 figure, noting it amounted to less than one percent of the total workforce in Massachusetts and that the state has fared better in the poor economy than the rest of the nation.)
Regarding Romney’s “I would” comment, the Perry campaign deceives the audience by chopping off the footage at exactly the right moment from the Dec. 16, 2007 interview on “Meet the Press.” If the campaign had aired a few more seconds of the interview, viewers would hear Romney reject a national mandate and jump into his usual spiel about states tackling rising health care costs through reform plans of their own.
Here’s what he said about applying the Massachusetts experiment to the rest of the nation: “What I’d do at the federal level is give to every state the same kind of flexibility we got from the federal government, as well as some carrots and sticks to actually get all their citizens insured.” This has been Romney’s standard line, but the ad leaves the impression he was eager to extend his law nationwide.
“The facts are clear in this video,” said Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner. “RomneyCare was the basis and groundwork for ObamaCare. Even President Obama said the same thing. We stand by the ad. It was factually correct.”
The Pinocchio Test
Perry’s ad relies on a pair of studies from a group with a predictable agenda: fighting new taxes and healthcare reform. That doesn’t mean the reports are false, but it does suggest they’re slanted.
It’s not the worst sin a candidate could commit, and in fact is fairly typical in these kinds of attack ads. But the Texas governor also gets bad marks for his deceptive use of the snippets from Romney’s book and interview with Russert.
Much as Romney dislikes to admit it, his law helped set the intellectual underpinings of Obama’s law. But Perry puts his foot on the scale by manipulating the Russert video and recycling the discredited material about Romney’s book. We don’t do half-Pinocchios, but the ad leans more toward three than two Pinocchios.