Romney's Israel healthcare stunner

The candidate appears to endorse a government-dominated universal care system

Published July 30, 2012 11:07PM (EDT)

The notion that Mitt Romney would go out of his way to compliment Israel's government-dominated universal healthcare system seemed so insanely misbegotten an idea that I assumed the tweets I was reading Monday referring to his comments must have been referencing something he'd said when he was governor of Massachusetts, while pushing for his own universal healthcare plan. Ah, those clever Internet pranksters, I thought, pulling up old quotes to embarrass the presidential candidate while he was visiting Israel. With Romney, that's so easy to do it almost isn't fair.

But then I read in the Washington Post that he made those comments on Monday while talking to fundraisers.

Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the GDP in Israel? 8 percent. You spend 8 percent of GDP on health care. And you’re a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18 percent of our GDP on health care. 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, let me compare that with the size of our military. Our military budget is 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of GDP. We have to find ways, not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to finally manage our health care costs.

Mitt's not wrong. He's just flabbergastingly off-message. The Post's Sarah Kliff does the heavy lifting:

Israel regulates its health care system aggressively, requiring all residents to carry insurance and capping revenue for various parts of the country’s health care system. Israel created a national health care system in 1995, largely funded through payroll and general tax revenue. The government provides all citizens with health insurance: They get to pick from one of four competing, nonprofit plans. Those insurance plans have to accept all customers—including people with pre-existing conditions—and provide residents with a broad set of government-mandated benefits.

You read that right. Israel has a mandate and caps on coverage, which, if translated into current American politics, would represent to Republican voters something akin to the triumph of Lucifer over all that is right and holy.

As Kliff reports, according to at least one academic analysis, Israel has been able to keep healthcare costs from spiking precisely because of strong government involvement. It's the kind of thing civilized developed countries are prone to do, all over the world. It's a great model for the U.S. -- with only one drawback. It's exactly the kind of thing Mitt Romney has sworn his undying opposition to. So what could he possibly have been thinking?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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