LEBANON, N.H. – Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty strongly opposes requiring citizens to buy health insurance, which is a core aspect of both the Democrats’ federal coverage law and the Massachusetts healthcare program signed by former Governor Mitt Romney.
But ask Pawlenty whether he specifically opposes the so-called "individual mandate’’ in Massachusetts, or if he thinks it was a mistake for Romney to adopt it, and he balks. He said he would rather not answer than generate more controversy within the possible GOP presidential primary field.
In that respect, he is different than Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour, potential Republican candidates who have openly and specifically criticized "RomneyCare.’’
"Every time you see me you ask me some variation of these questions, trying to get me to contrast with Massachusetts, and I’ll just tell you what I did and what I believe and leave the analyzing to somebody else,’’ he told reporters today after discussing health reform with a group of doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
"What happens is, if I comment about it, then you go back and write that Pawlenty bashes Massachuseetts, and there is tension between Pawlenty and Mitt, and I’m just not going to do that.’’
Pawlenty does have some specific ideas about overhauling the health care system.
He wants to change Medicaid into a block grant program for states, so they can spend the money however then want, as long as it is on healthcare delivery. He believes having federal standards for health plans is an excessive intrusion on the ability of states to innovate. In Medicare, he wants to offer more options like health savings accounts and Medicare HMOs.
Overall, Pawlenty maintains that he is a big believer in the power of quality and price transparency to create a market where consumers make choices and drive down costs through the power of free enterprise. He added that technology and greater efforts to combat waste and fraud will also drive down costs. The individual mandate – even though insurance companies say it is needed to expand the insurance pool to more healthy people and thereby hold down premiums – is an unprecedented "overreach’’ by government.
Some doctors at the noon forum today challenged Pawlenty, saying he was not offering sufficiently detailed alternatives to Medicare or ObamaCare, and that healthcare is too important a service to allow consumers to be subjected to the whims of the markets.
But Pawlenty said he has a different philosophy, built on giving information to patients and families and letting free markets do the rest.
"If they need financial help, then give it to them,’’ he said, "but let them make the choice and empower them rather than have a big government bureaucracy do it.’’
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.