This week Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signed into law a bill that would bring health care coverage to everyone in his state.
Will it work? Will it work in 49 other states? It’s a tall order and just the kind of accomplishment that could turn heads if the governor decides to run for president in 2008. He’s halfway there already after he decided not to run for a second term as governor of Massachusetts.
Matthews discussed the plan with Romney on 'Hardball'.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, 'HARDBALL': You were quite a hit down at that Memphis Republican get together. You amazed me at how tough you were on the marriage issue.
ROMNEY: Well, I made it real clear from the very beginning that I favor marriage between one man and a woman, and I’m not in favor of same-sex marriage. I’m not in favor of civil union, and there’s no question that people who attend those events agree with me.
MATTHEWS: Why do you mention one man? Is the numerical issue an issue now, how many people are partners in these marriages? Why did you say one man? Why didn’t you just say a man and a woman?
ROMNEY: No particular reason. Just a man and a woman.
MATTHEWS: You know, what I’m getting at don’t you? The issue of multiple wives and polygamy. That’s obviously a question that comes because this new TV show about a Mormon family and how many wives, three of them I think in the movie.
ROMNEY: Actually it’s not a Mormon family. My church has long ago given up that practice in the 1800s, but putting that aside for a moment. It’s real clear that Americans, myself included, believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and not more than that and also not same sex couples.
And that is something which I think is important to my party and I think people of both parties. And I think the Democratic Party, particularly in my state, has made an error by adopting a platform that supports gay marriage.
MATTHEWS: Could that be a deal breaker for the Democrats who seem to be doing so well in the polling right now, their support for civil unions or some form of same sex partnership?
ROMNEY: Well, I think it’s hard for the Democrats. I think they’re making a mistake because I think they fundamentally misunderstand the fact that in America people recognize that the primary purpose of marriage is the creation and the development of the next generation. And the ideal way to create and develop the next generation is to have homes with moms and dads. And that’s something where traditional marriage is going to play such a key role.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about something I’m very impressed with, and everybody else will be, I think. And that’s what you have been able to accomplish up there with health care. Everybody wants health care for people who are working and playing by the rules and trying to raise families and not having enough money to pay for expensive health care. Will the Massachusetts effort that you’ve just signed now, will it work for the country?
ROMNEY: Well, it will work for Massachusetts, and that’s of course the thing that I had to focus on. There are certain aspects of it that I think would work across the country, perhaps better in some states than others. Of course the great thing about federalism is you let a state try it and see how it works before you spread it out.
But there’s some key features and I think this is one of them, which is that we are already spending billions of dollars in our country and in my state, about a billion dollars, giving free care to people who don’t have insurance. And the question was, if we took that money and helped them buy insurance, could we have everybody insured and the answer is yes.
We don’t need new money. We don’t need new taxes. We could use the money we’re currently spending and get people better health care without having the burden and the cost of the uninsured being borne by everybody else.
MATTHEWS: So people below the poverty line are covered by Medicaid.
People who have good jobs and good employment contracts have health care. The people in the middle, the people who are freelance, in the business I’m in right now, television, freelance people don’t get health insurance. People that are above the poverty line don’t get the advantage of Medicaid unless they impoverish themselves.
Is there enough money in saving from emergency rooms and other costs to cover the cost of that middle of the road person who is somewhere between the poverty level and well off?
ROMNEY: Well, that’s what we found. We studied at some length the people who didn’t have insurance, and we found, first of all, that about 40 percent of those that don’t have insurance had plenty of income to buy their own private policy if it were reasonably priced. So we stripped out some mandates. We allowed co-pays and deductibles that are larger. And those people can buy insurance.
Then those that are lower income, we found that we’re already spending more than enough money.
MATTHEWS: Got you. God, it sounds wonderful. I’m not supposed to cheer here, but I mean, I think it’s wonderful. I mean, if it works fiscally, how long will it take you governor in the commonwealth to know if the numbers add up?
ROMNEY: Well, we’ll probably know what kind of a financial experience we’re seeing within the next probably year. It’s going to take us about three years to get all of our citizens insured, but we’re going to see the kind of effect that this change has on our individual citizens’ lives very quickly. And there’s not much question here that it works. As long as we politicians don’t get back into the soup and muddy things up, it will work because we are basically helping people get private policies.
MATTHEWS: Why are the Democrats fighting you on this?
ROMNEY: They are not. The Democrats and the Republicans have come together on this.
MATTHEWS: Well, who is this guy out there complaining right now about the fact that you deleted this penalty box of 295 if you don’t join up?
ROMNEY: Oh, well that is not a big matter. My Democratic friends added basically about a $20 a month charge to companies that don’t provide insurance to their employees, but $20 is not a big figure. I just don’t think we need to add any kind of fees at this point, so I vetoed that, but most likely the legislature will put that back in, but that’s not the key feature.
The key feature here is we’re letting people get their own private health insurance, not a government plan, not a government insurance plan, not a government takeover in any way, shape or form, no new taxes being applied. And as a result of doing that, we’re getting everybody insured. It’s with portable insurance purchased from the private companies.
MATTHEWS: So if you can afford it, you buy the insurance under this new plan. If you can’t afford it, your co-pay is still there? You still have to pay a part of it, right? If you can’t afford anything then the government pays for it? ...
ROMNEY: If you can’t afford anything, then we help subsidize the purchase of your insurance plan. So let’s say you’re earning two times federal poverty which, in my state, would be roughly $35,000 a year. In that case, you’re going to be paying about $15 a week for your insurance. We’ll pick up the remainder.
And so the state picks up some portion of the insurance premium to make sure that everybody has a plan they can afford and it’s not a government plan. Again, it’s a private plan offered by the many insurance companies that compete here.
MATTHEWS: OK. Sounds like great news, governor. Congratulations. I hope the numbers add up because it sounds like something we really need in this country.
Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.
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