For those who aren't following the blow-by-blow in the Presidential Gladitorial Stadium: yesterday in NH, somebody asked Romney about Obamacare, and specifically what he would do instead. A fine question, and his answer was that he believes that individuals should get their *own* insurance, instead of being indirected through company plans, so that they can make up their own minds. Unfortunately, the way he put it was (paraphrasing from memory): "I want to be able to fire my insurance company. I like to fire people, and the insurance company shouldn't be any different."
Admittedly, it was an incredibly dumb gaffe (especially because he committed the cardinal sin of confirming everybody's worst expectations of him), but it's been blown a tad out of proportion by the other candidates shouting from the rooftops, "Romney likes to fire people!".
That isn't really what annoys me, though -- he kind of walked into the firestorm, and should have known better. What annoys me is that, in the heat of the soundbite moment, everyone's ignoring the fact that he said something *really* interesting. I mean, saying that we should replace the current insurance system with direct insurance to individuals is not some sort of minor tweak -- hell, it's not even a patch the way the new healthcare law is. It implies a total overhaul of the system.
Consider: Romney is 100% correct that the key flaw of the current system is the indirection in it. You may hate your health insurer, but you usually have little say in the matter -- you get the insurance that your employer dictates. And the employer's considerations are a bit ethereal from your point of view, having only a modest amount to do with you personally: instead, they are focused on finding a reasonably good price for insuring a pool of employees, and providing enough quality of care that it is at least not a net negative in trying to hire people. This isn't exactly a recipe for effective and appropriate competition between insurers. Plus, since your cost of care has little to do with how much you pay, you have little incentive to use the service appropriately. What Romney is suggesting, essentially, is that we should really break this system down, and redo it in a way that promotes effective competition and provides better motive to use it well.
In airy economic terms, this is entirely sensible -- the economist in me kind of loves it. Unfortunately, it has a lot of fairly horrible real-world problems -- not least, the fact that insurers really do not want to insure anybody who really *needs* it. I suspect that it could be made to work, and it wouldn't actually surprise me if it could eventually work considerably better than what we now have, but not without a lot of interim pain and eventually a *massive* new regulatory framework.
None of which anybody is talking about. Instead, everybody is talking about the soundbite. The more highbrow networks are talking about the people talking about the soundbite. Nobody is talking about the incredibly controversial thing he actually said, which is far more interesting.
*Sigh*. It's going to be a long year...