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Mitt Romney Is Forced to Denounce His Own Legacy

If the health care law is a failure, what would policy success look like?

Sometimes you almost have to feel sorry for Mitt Romney. The former Republican presidential candidate has one great achievement in life: health reform in Massachusetts, passed in 2006 when he was governor, which acted as a template for the Affordable Care Act.

If Mr. Romney were a member of a reasonable political party, he would be boasting about that record. But he wanted to be president, which meant having to accommodate himself to his party. In Iowa, 81 percent of Republicans in a recent Bloomberg poll say that Ben Carson’s statement that Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery makes him more attractive as a candidate, so Mr. Romney has to denigrate the best thing he’s done.

But sometimes, it turns out, he can’t maintain the facade. In a recent article in The Boston Globe, Mr. Romney took credit for setting the stage for Obamacare. Then he tried desperately to walk it back, claiming that Obamacare had failed – which is literally and figuratively the party line.

Which raises the question: If the health care law is a failure, what would policy success look like?

Obamacare has led to a rapid drop in the number of uninsured Americans, especially in states that have fully implemented its provisions. It hasn’t covered everyone, but it wasn’t expected to: It doesn’t cover immigrants living in the country illegally, and the relative complexity of the law always meant that some eligible people would fall through the cracks. Original estimates from the Congressional Budget Office were that eventually 92 percent of nonelderly residents would have coverage, and in states that are implementing a Medicaid insurance expansion, we’re getting there.

Meanwhile, the whole program has come in well below projected costs. While insurance premiums will rise in 2016, after two years of remarkably small increases, that still leaves things cheaper than anticipated. And overall health care spending has come in far below expectations.

None of the other terrible things that were supposed to happen – job losses, a destruction of full-time employment, a surge in the budget deficit – have happened either.

But to be a good Republican you have to insist that Obamacare has been a disaster. And Mr. Romney is, therefore, in the position of denouncing his life’s work. It’s sad. But he has nobody but himself to blame.

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