The White House said Obama planned to point out Massachusetts’ sluggish start Wednesday. Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor who advised both Romney and Obama on the development of their laws, said only 123 paying consumers signed up the first month of the Massachusetts law, with 36,000 coming on by the time penalties kicked in for failing to have insurance.“That same kind of outcome will happen at the national level, but it will take time,” Gruber said in a media call previewing the trip organized by the White House. “We need to be patient and measure the outcomes in months and years, not days and weeks.”
For one thing, this talking point compares unlike entities; we can’t expect outcomes at the national level to mirror those at the state level. More importantly, though, it ignores the fact that Massachusetts is having significant health care cost problems these days. A report earlier this year, for example, found that between 2009 and 2011, on average, state premiums rose 9.7 percent while coverage value declined 5.1 percent.So under Romneycare, Massachusetts is still subject to the same forces driving our national health care cost crisis. Of course, Romneycare isn’t directly causing this trend—the authors of that particular report attribute a large share of cost increases to over-use of expensive hospitals. What these kinds of studies do show, however, is how Romney-care style reforms fail to address the central problem in our system: the lack of price sensitivity on the part of the consumer.So when Obama points toward Massachusetts, all he’s really doing is reminding us that his health care reform hasn’t even started solving our biggest health care problems, and that prices will keep rising.