Yes, Mitt, You Should Be Able to Fire Your Insurance Company

January 10, 2012

Insurance companies aren't people. But, otherwise, Mitt Romney's criticism of the Affordable Care Act is spot-on.


We’re only 10 days into 2012, yet I find myself today compelled to break my New Year’s resolution to abstain from responding to the various blips, bleeps, gaffes, and gobsmackers that will inevitably emanate from the ungoverned mouths of our many presidential candidates. I resolved not to respond every time Rick Santorum or Jon Huntsman or even President Obama says something wrong or misleading about the business of American healthcare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare and Medicaid, etc. Don’t misunderstand: It’s not that I don’t care when someone wants to be president betrays a significant lack of understanding about how one-sixth of our economy works. It’s just that the presidential campaign figures to yield so much wrongness and demagoguery on healthcare that the sheer volume of it would overwhelm me if I tried to track it all.

But the current nonsense over Mitt Romney’s now-infamous “I like being able to fire people” remark has reached such a depth of dishonesty that it simply cannot go unaddressed. Every one of his Republican rivals is quoting him out of context, shamefully. Rick Perry made a ringtone out of it, for heaven’s sake.

Here’s the full quote, in context:

“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say, ‘I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.’”

He was referring to health insurance companies. Romney, who would like everyone to forget that he is the intellectual father of the ACA, was asking: Should you, as a patient-as a consumer-be able to fire your insurance carrier if you deem its premiums too high and/or services not good enough, and replace it with a rival carrier? And he was saying, Of course you should be able to do that.
And who would argue with that?

No one. That’s why the criticism of him is based not on the merits of what he said, but on the inaccurate portrayal of what he said (that he literally enjoys firing people), or on the fact that his poor choice of words made him vulnerable to being misquoted.

Romney was also pointing out, rightly, that the ACA limits (and for millions of Americans, altogether eliminates) this most basic of consumer choices. Even as it requires every American to purchase insurance, the ACA excludes from the state-based insurance exchanges (where people can compare plans and choose one) anyone whose employer already offers its workers health insurance. People in that situation (which is to say, most people with steady jobs at companies with more than 50 workers, outside of retail and fast food) would simply be required to purchase whatever insurance option is offered by their employer (provided the option meets federal standards). And since most employers offer their workers one insurance choice, people working in those companies would have no choice at all.

Look, I’m no Romney fan. He’s stiff, dull, robotic, and seemingly lacking in any core convictions other than his conviction that Mitt Romney should be president. I saw his speech after the Iowa caucuses and wondered if it had been written by a greeting card company. (“I love America. I love the hymns of America. The amber waves of grain.”) Afterward, I thought: Are we 100 percent certain that Mitt Romney is not a cyborg sent from the future to enslave Americans by capturing control of our political system?

But his criticism of the ACA is perfectly valid and exactly correct. Romney’s mistake is failing to discern the difference between a person and a corporation. He’s made this mistake before, and by now you’d expect him to know better. Perhaps his programmers could work on that in time for Mitt 2.0.