In his 2006 Massachusetts health care law, Mitt Romney embraced a virtually identical contraception coverage mandate as President Obama recently has, experts say, and as a result expanded access to birth control for hundreds of thousands of women. And Democrats really want you to know that.
“They are practically mirror images or each other,” John McDonough, a professor of public health at Harvard, said on a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee. “They completely reflect each other.”
Romney has embraced the shocked, shocked tone of leading Republicans on this issue in recent days, and Democrats have acted swiftly to flag up inconsistencies in his position.
McDonough said the only distinction between the two is that Massachusetts’ exemption includes some Church-controlled primary schools — but not religious universities or hospitals. He added that while Romney’s law did impose a short-term moratorium on new mandated insurance benefits, Romney broke that moratorium 4 months after enactment by issuing a mandate unrelated to contraception.
Romney’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and for now he’s keeping the focus on Obama. He predicted Thursday that the President will be forced to “retreat” from his regulation or “suffer enormous consequence.”
The birth control issue has become the subject of a Catholic community firestorm, fueled by Republicans, over the Obama administration’s requirement that employers providing health insurance (with the exception of Churches) include birth control coverage. Congressional Republicans have threatened to reverse the rule through legislation — which could make things awkward for Romney.
The same mandate existed in Massachusetts before Romney became governor, and he did not widen the existing coverage requirements. But McDonough said that contrary to Romney’s claims, he made no effort to roll back the contraception part during his four years at the helm, whether in his original proposal or during the debate. Ultimately, the professor said, Romney emboldened it by expanding insurance coverage subject to the rule.
“I think that is demonstrably true,” McDonough told reporters on the Thursday call. “The uninsured individuals [in Massachusetts] who got access to insurance because of the health care law… all got access to contraceptive coverage because of that law.”
Phil Johnston, a former Democratic health secretary in Massachusetts, added that roughly 400,000 Massachusetts residents now have health insurance thanks to Romney’s law, and each one of them has access to birth control.
Earlier this week after Romney joined the GOP chorus and attacked Obama’s mandate, the White House pointed to the ex-governor’s own prior support for a similar provision, to which Romney said he had “fought to remove” the contraception requirement.
“The record does not match a lot of the claims that are being made on it,” McDonough said.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.