Priorities USA, an Obama-supporting SuperPAC, recently launched this ad implicating Mitt Romney in the death of the wife of a laid-off steelworker, Joe Soptic. By Soptic’s own telling, his family lost their health insurance when Bain Capital closed his Kansas City plant in 2001. His wife couldn’t afford to visit the doctor, so by the time they discovered her cancer, it had advanced to terminal Stage 4. (As the late Christopher Hitchens was fond of saying of his own Stage 4 prognosis, “There is no Stage 5.”) She died weeks later.
The fired workers from Romney’s private equity dealings have become familiar subjects in Obama ads, but this latest Priorities USA spot — produced without the president’s knowledge — took the attack to an excessively morbid level. What the ad portrays as a simple cause-and-effect (cause: Romney fires the steelworker; effect: his wife dies) is anything but. Mrs. Soptic died six years after her husband’s layoff, and for at least one year she was covered by her employer’s insurance. It’s not even clear that Romney was involved in the decision to close the plant, which happened after he had left his day-to-day duties at Bain to run the Salt Lake Olympics (though his campaign has never been able to clarify the extent of his involvement during those years.)
The Romney campaign has every reason to be outraged. Priorities USA took a legitimate critique about the human cost of Romney’s business practices and turned it into a scurrilous personal assault. Priorities should pull the commercial and apologize for the insinuation that Romney’s actions were responsible for Mrs. Soptic’s death.
They should then recut the ad to make the point they missed the first time: Mrs. Soptic died because of the policies that Mitt Romney supports. Not the universal health plan he enacted as governor (as Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul helpfully pointed out) but rather the retrenchment in coverage he would support as president: no insurance mandate, no free preventative care, no one-stop online insurance marketplaces, no subsidies to purchase private coverage, no Medicaid expansion, no ban on abuses such as the denial of coverage for preexisting conditions or lifetime expense caps… All are included in the Affordable Care Act, which Romney has pledged to repeal as his first act of office.
An estimated 45,000 Americans die annually from lack of health insurance, which, not coincidentally, is 45,000 more than the combined total of every other industrialized country in the world. The ACA, when fully implemented, will extend coverage to most of the 44 million Americans without insurance, like the Soptics, and prevent the denial of care for the rest of us.
Mitt Romney’s opposition could not be more emphatic. Even taking him at his word — not always the easiest thing to do — to replace the ACA with his own plan, tens of millions of Americans would be left without insurance. Romney led the nation by implementing universal coverage in Massachusetts. He shares no such goal for the country; the plan on his website makes no mention of universal care or the expansion of access. Any decrease in the ranks of the uninsured would come indirectly through his vague promises of “increasing efficiency” and “lowering costs.”
Perhaps Romney thinks that’s good policy. He definitely thinks it is good politics. Regardless of one’s opinion of the ACA, fewer Americans will have health insurance without it. Some of those Americans, like Mrs. Soptic, will die as a result. Mitt Romney may not be personally culpable, but his policies certainly will be.