T-Paw: Don't Ask Me About Pawlentycare

Written by Fred Messner on Tuesday June 14, 2011

Romney is right to worry about his reform being linked to Obamacare, but he should not be bashful about his record on coverage and cost-control.

Tim Pawlenty has been on the offensive about Mitt Romney's healthcare record.  But even as he derides "Obamneycare," Pawlenty continues to delay the release of a plan to replace Obama's healthcare reform and has said little about his own record on the issue.

The reason for this is simple: it's not very good, especially next to Romney’s.

T-Paw and Romney both assumed office in 2003, at which point 7.4 percent of Massachusetts residents and 7.2 percent of Minnesotans lacked health insurance. Both rates were well below the national average.

By the end of 2008, the proportion of uninsured residents in Massachusetts had dropped to 2.6 percent and has since fallen to 1.9 percent. Granted, Romney left office in January 2007, but almost all of the drop can be attributed to his healthcare reform. Minnesota is a different story: in 2009, 9.1 percent of the population was uninsured, a substantial increase.

Now, T-Paw does have slight edge in ideological purity, as a smaller proportion of Minnesota residents are enrolled in some form of public healthcare and there is no individual mandate.  In 2009, 30.3 percent of the insured in Massachusetts were covered by a public plan, including Medicare, whereas the same proportion was 28.7 percent in Minnesota. However, Minnesota is more directly involved in the administration of healthcare than Massachusetts.  Minnesota owns 29 percent of all hospitals in the state, while Massachusetts owns just three percent.

The most important differences between the two former governors’ healthcare records lie in their states’ reactions to the recession.  As unemployment skyrocketed in 2008 and 2009, unemployed Minnesotans simply flooded the public healthcare rolls.  In Massachusetts, where the jobless rate reached an even higher peak (9.1 percent to 8.9 percent), employers actually covered an increasing proportion of the insured (66 percent-67 percent).  Romney’s system actually deflected some of the costs of covering the newly insured away from the government while continuing to extend coverage.

What did Pawlenty do in Minnesota? Well, as more Minnesotans lost their jobs and the associated employer-provided healthcare, they became a burden on the state budget. So T-Paw simply ended a low-income healthcare support program.  After a prolonged battle with the state legislature, Pawlenty eventually signed a bill reinstating a stripped-down version of the program, but this approach revealed his overall healthcare strategy.

Romney is right to worry about his reform being linked to Obamacare, but he should not be bashful about his record on coverage and cost-control. Romney enacted a system that allowed unemployment-stricken Massachusetts to maintain near-universal coverage without busting the state budget. T-Paw allowed a wasteful status quo to persist until it eventually reached unsustainable costs and he was forced to cut instead of reform.

If Republican voters want a President with a credible replacement for Obamacare, they would be wise to vote for record, not rhetoric.