Kennedy School Cites Massachusetts Reform as a Model

The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has lauded the “Commonwealth of Connector” of Massachusetts finds some people willing to give it some glowing words.

Randall Bovbjerg of the Urban Institute says that both liberals and conservatives should like the connector:

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“It was politically influential because it allowed conservatives and liberals to come together,” Bovbjerg said. Conservatives liked the Connector approach because it involved individual responsibility, competition and choice. Liberals approved because it did not exclude those with pre-existing health conditions, it was affordable and flexible — anyone could sign up at any time.

Where to begin?

From a conservative point of view, individual responsibility is in fact valuable. But not all personal responsibilities are properly the concern of government. You may have a moral code or religious belief that dictates that you be kind to animals and strangers – but that doesn’t mean government has the authority to require that you perform acts of kindness.

In addition, supporting a tax for simply being alive (effectively, what supporting the personal mandate does) is not what I’d call a conservative principle.

What about competition? Sure, competition is great, both morally and economically. The competition offered in the connector is a rather cramped one once, as in Massachusetts, the government imposes detailed rules that define what services may, must, and cannot be provided in a particular marketplace.

And choice? That may be more of a libertarian concern than a conservative one, but still, “choice” is hardly honored if it is restricted to the narrow confines of government dictates.

And I would think “fiscal responsibility” is a conservative virtue, too. And on that score, the connector hasn’t been a great success.

If you really want to enhance competition and choice, you don’t need a government-created “marketplace.” You need a real marketplace, in which companies are free to offer a variety of products at a variety of prices. That’s not what you have in the Commonwealth Connector.

In the abstract, a state could foster a marketplace through taking some active steps, such as gathering information about all insurance companies selling products in the state and then creating a Web site or dead-tree publication that everyone could look at. It could also let people in Massachusetts buy policies sold in Kansas, Idaho or any other state, and let everyone get a tax credit (as employers do) for buying insurance.

Those would be “conservative” steps in that they enhance the power of individuals and families to take care of themselves apart from government help or dictate.

Cross-posted from State House Call.