Obamacare and Romneycare are not identical

There are a lot of differences between Obamacare and Romneycare, even though President Barack Obama said that the two plans were based on an “identical model” during the first presidential debate in Denver on Wednesday night.

“We’ve seen this model work very well,” Obama said, “in Massachusetts.”

Wrong, countered Mitt Romney. As Massachusetts governor, he passed a health care plan “on a bipartisan basis.”

President Obama, said Romney, “instead of bringing America together,” rammed through a bill that garnered no support across the aisle. “Something this big, this important,” Romney concluded, “has to be done on a bipartisan basis.”

Note this: Romney had to work with Democrats. They constituted 87 percent of the Massachusetts Legislature. In Obama’s first two years in the White House, Democrats controlled the House and enjoyed a large majority in the Senate. Obama was able to pass his bill without courting GOP votes. Still, it was a poor choice with consequences.

Obama sulked that his plan was based on a Republican idea. It begs the question, Why did he fail to win a single Republican vote?

If he cannot sell Republicans on what he says is a GOP idea, what good is he?

Obamacare and Romneycare are not identical. They are very different. Romney worked to promote flexibility; Obama and the Democrats imposed uniformity. Romney worked to limit mandates in Massachusetts health care; Obama and a Democratic Congress threw a host of goodies, such as an end to copayments for “preventive care,” into the Affordable Care Act. Employers will have to pay for service for which workers used to chip in.

This administration has refined passing the hat. With Congress, the president enacted mandates — “free” birth control, adult children’s being able to stay on their parents’ plans up to age 26 — for which Washington pols do not have to pay. They don’t even have to pretend that Congress will have to pay in the future. The private sector pays.

“If you’ve got health insurance,” Obama said of his plan, “it doesn’t mean a government takeover.”

It’s a government takeover without government fiscal responsibility.

Early in the debate, Romney quipped that Obama seems to have levied an “economy tax.” Well put. What employer wants to hire new workers when that employer knows that Washington pols know that they can add new mandates at no cost to themselves?

Even before Obamacare goes into full effect, it’s clear that this model cannot, as the president promised, “get the cost down so it’s more affordable.” That’s not mathematically possible.

Now that everyone knows that Washington can find services dear to politically important demographic groups and make other people pay for them, there is no controlling health care costs.

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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