Back in January, at one of the many debates for the Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney highlighted Ann Romney's multiple sclerosis. It's proof, the candidate argued, that "as First Lady, she will be able to reach out to people who are also struggling and suffering and will be someone who shows compassion and care." Romney even released a web video on this in honor of World Multiple Sclerosis Day.
It's a nice sentiment, but there is some trouble with this -- those who share Ann Romney's condition are convinced her husband's policy agenda will be horrible for them. Stephanie Mencimer has a good piece on this today.
With Mitt Romney the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, his wife, Ann, has become the most high-profile advocate for people with multiple sclerosis since Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. From her new post as potential first lady, Ann Romney has done much to raise the profile of an incurable, degenerative illness that afflicts some 400,000 Americans. Local chapters of the National MS Society have been clamoring for her to appear at their fundraisers and other events.
But there's a problem: MS advocates say that policies Romney now supports would be detrimental for many MS sufferers, and they are actively opposing these proposals. Which means that Mitt Romney is now at odds with the MS community he and his wife have long supported.
This wasn't much of an issue in Massachusetts. On the contrary, during his gubernatorial tenure, Romney had not yet metamorphosed into his current iteration, and his health care policies advanced progressive goals -- for the MS community and others. The MS Society was an enthusiastic supporter of RomneyCare.
But at the national level, the MS Society did exactly what the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Hospital Association did: they endorsed the Affordable Care Act and continue to oppose its repeal.
Indeed, in 2012, MS advocates are well aware of Romney's plans to destroy the Affordable Care Act dramatically scale back Medicaid, and the extent to which both moves would be a brutal setback for Americans with the disease.
"There are so many provisions in the health law that are beneficial to people with chronic illness, including MS," Ted Thompson, the vice president for federal government relations at the National MS Society, told Mencimer. Of particular importance are annual and lifetime caps, both of which Obama got rid of, and both of which Romney intends to bring back.
"Obamacare" also includes "requirements that insurers sufficiently cover habilitation services, which include physical and occupational therapy and other measures that can help slow the progression of chronic diseases and keep people in the workforce and out of government programs."
Jonathan Cohn added in a recent report, "[P]atients with chronic disease like MS will lose most or all those protections if Romney becomes president and, as he has promised, he repeals the Affordable Care Act. He's promised to replace it with other reforms but, based on what he's said, his reforms won't be much of a substitute. Worse still, the tax and regulatory changes he's proposed would quite likely undermine existing insurance arrangements without providing a suitable alternative, as experts such as Harvard's David Cutler have pointed out. People with chronic disease who now rely on job-based plans could find themselves with weaker coverage, or even none at all."
For years, the MS community has seen the Romneys as close allies. If they're in the White House in January, that will change dramatically.