The real problem with “I like being able to fire people…”

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is getting unwanted attention for his recent quote, “I like being able to fire people…” The campaign of rival Rick Perry has even made it into a cellphone ringtone.

Whatever the context, the problem for Romney is that the quote reminds people of his career as a corporate raider as head of Bain Capital. The full quote is actually about health policy, but the specific substance doesn’t get any better for candidate Romney:

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What the quote says: “I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep people healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I’m going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me.”

Candidate Romney said this after an unfactual swipe at “Obamacare,” that somehow the Affordable Care Act would impose a health plan on individuals. In fact, for many Americans it will give them more choices–and more importantly, more affordable choices.

As Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic indicates, in order to get those choices presented, you need some clear market rules–regulations that the GOP presidential field has largely opposed.

As the Incidental Economist notes, the issue right now is that many people can’t fire their health insurer (they can’t get coverage if they are already sick), and that insurers don’t have a strong incentive to keep their patients healthy (not compared with the incentives of simply avoiding people who need care.) The Affordable Care Act, which Romney wants to repeal, would actually go a long way to change this.

As Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress pointed out, the larger argument by Governor Romney was that it was good for people to pay *more* in health costs. But so many are already paying so much more, and are looking for relief from those costs, which provide a significant barrier to getting care.

Given Governor’s Romney history on health issues, these aren’t idle remarks. Let’s hope there’s more discussion about the health policy implications of Romney’s “I like being able to fire people” quote.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.