Pawlenty Distorts Own Record Of Advocating Health Exchanges To Slam Obamacare

Tim Pawlenty’s campaign is rebuffing this story accusing the former Republican Minnesota governor of embracing health reforms that were eventually incorporated into the Affordable Care Act, including: payment reform, Medicaid expansion, and establishing health insurance exchanges. Here is what Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant is telling Politico:

“Gov. Pawlenty rejected individual mandates every time they were proposed in Minnesota, and said they were a bad idea in the same speech that’s being selectively pushed by some of his opponents now. His reforms in Minnesota used market-based reforms to lower costs and improve quality. Mitt Romney can’t debate President Barack Obama on health care; Tim Pawlenty can’t wait to.”

On the question of insurance exchanges, Conant adds: “Minnesota did study exchanges and concluded they didn’t work, which is why Gov. Pawlenty rejected the exchange proposals in Obamacare.”

Pawlenty praised Mitt Romney’s success in expanding health care coverage in Massachusetts and suggested that the mandate is something Minnesota might consider, but yes, he ultimately rejected that solution. What he did embrace whole heartedly — and this is where Alex Conant is really flubbing the facts — is the exchange. Pawlenty advanced the idea in Minnesota in 2007, arguing that a non-profit Minnesota Insurance Exchange could “connect employers and workers with more affordable health coverage options.” “If just two of your employees go out and buy insurance through the exchange, the benefits to the employer on a pre-tax basis — because of their payments to Social Security and otherwise into the 125 plan — more than cover the cost of setting up the plan,” Pawlenty explained at the time.

The proposal was part of the governor’s “Healthy Connections” health care plan, and he described the exchange as a structure that “will create another option for employers who would like to provide health insurance as a benefit for their employees.” “All individual health insurance policies in Minnesota will be required to be purchased through the Exchange. Individuals will also be able to pay for coverage with pre-tax dollars. The products will continue to be regulated by the state,” a press release for the proposal read.

Pawlenty’s support isn’t very surprising since the exchanges were initially conceptualized by the conservative Heritage foundation and advanced by Republicans as a way for insurers to compete head-to-head on equal playing field for beneficiaries. That he’s now distancing himself from this proposal — and his campaign is misrepresenting his role in advancing it — is, well not too surprising in a political environment where anything the Democrats or Obama embrace turns toxic for someone hoping to secure the GOP presidential nomination.