Jonathan Gruber, one of the key architects of Romney's health reform as Massachusetts governor has pointed to the contradiction inherent in Romney saying Obamacare has hiked taxes by noting that Romney's healthcare mandate works the same way as Obama's.
According to Gruber, professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the individual mandate provisions in Obamacare is virtually identical with the mandate in Romney's health bill and both have the "same basic structure."
Following the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act's individual mandate under the taxing authority of the Congress, the Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacked the decision as a tax hike.
The Huffington Post reports that Romney said at a fundraiser on Friday: "The people of America, I think, recognize that this legislation is not right for America. It will cost $500 billion in taxes."
After Gov. Deval Patrick (D) argued at a conference call that the mandate was not a tax but a "penalty," a top Obama administration official argued that if Romney would insist that the mandate represented a tax hike then Romney, by logical extension, should admit that he also raised similar taxes as Governor of Massachusetts.
Politico also points to the contradiction inherent in opponents of Obamacare arguing that the Obama administration has hiked taxes on millions of middle-class Americans by noting the fact that Romney's individual mandate in Massachusetts works in exactly the same way as Obama's.
Politico reports the MIT professor Gruber, said: “I don't think of the mandate as a tax — I think of it is a free rider penalty. But if you want to think of it as a tax, then it is exactly the same tax... Romney imposed."
Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, agreed with Gruber, saying: “If one’s a tax, the other’s a tax."
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith, reacting to Romney's criticism, said in statement: “Under Romneycare, the individual mandate is structured exactly the same way as the requirement in the Affordable Care Act and even Romney himself touted how the law implements to encourage free riders to take responsibility for their health care. All of which begs a simple question: if Republicans are attacking the President’s individual mandate as a tax, why aren’t they attacking Mitt Romney’s?”
In an interview with the The Huffiington Post on Friday, Gruber said that the similarities between Obamacare and Romneycare included the individual mandate in the respective bills. He said: "Basically the way it would function is you have a form 1099-HC, which is like a health care form you get from your insurer every year, and you would attach it to your taxes. That form would show you have health insurance and you're fine. If you don't have health insurance, you fill out a form on your taxes... which computes whether you're exempt from the penalty, [which would be the case] if your income is too low or insurance costs too much. Finally, if you don't have the form and you're not exempt, there will be a penalty on your taxes."
Gruber said that in Massachusetts, the Department of Revenue is in charge of enforcing the penalty imposed under Romney's health insurance reform legislation, but under Obamacare the responsibility will fall on the IRS. According to AP, Gruber said: "The size of the penalty in Massachusetts is an amount that depends on your income. Those making more than three times the poverty level –- $32,676 for an individual –- pay the highest penalty of $105 per month, or $1,260 per year."
In response to those who insist that the penalty under the individual mandate provisions in Obamacare represents a tax hike, supporters of Obamacare point to the fact that the virtually identical mandate under Romneycare has not resulted in a tax hike in Massachusetts. According to Gruber, the policy is working well in Massachusetts and within the first year, 98 percent of tax filers in Massachusetts "got it right," and only a total of 44,000 residents in a state of 6 million people paid a penalty.
The Huffiington post reports that according to Governor Deval Patrick (D): "I will say that the fines have gone down, because more and more people, as the statistics you cited indicate, have taken up insurance."
Romney's critics note that as late as 2008, he was "comfortable with the idea" that the penalty amounts to a tax. The Salon reports that in 2008 when Romney was running for president for the first time, ABC News host Charlie Gibson asked him during a New Hampshire debate:
“Governor... you imposed tax penalties in Massachusetts?”
Romney replied, “Yes, we said, look, if people can afford to buy it, either buy the insurance or pay your own way; don’t be free riders.” The Salon recalls that it was during the same debate that Romney said gleefully: “I like mandates.”
But critics are saying that now that Romney finds it politically expedient, he is playing according to his "etch-a-sketch" characterization by denouncing a mandate virtually identical with the one that he signed into law as governor.
The Huffington Post reports Romney's spokeswoman Andrea Saul, has responded to the observations, saying:
"Governor Romney disagreed with the court’s ruling and its findings. What's troubling is the President told the American people the mandate was not a tax, and then sent his lawyer to the Supreme Court to argue it was a tax. So he said one thing to get it passed, and then contradicted himself to get it past the court. This court's decision raises the stakes for the election in November. While Governor Romney is disappointed with the court's ruling, ultimately it is the people who will have the final word."Politico, however, notes that Saul's statement does not address the substance of the issue the Obama campaign raised, that: "Under Romneycare, the individual mandate is structured exactly the same way as the requirement in the Affordable Care Act," and that "if Republicans are attacking the President’s individual mandate as a tax, why aren’t they attacking Mitt Romney’s?”