Mitt Romney's ongoing ties to Bain Capital after he left to run the Winter Olympics in 1999 remains fodder for Democratic attacks, as well as a source of confusion as to whether Romney had any operational role in the company and, if he didn't, why he remained legally linked to Bain.
There are any number of reasons why Romney might not have wanted to sever his ties with Bain. But here's one that nobody has yet explored: So his wife, Ann, would not lose her health insurance as she battled with multiple sclerosis.
Put another way, was Mitt Romney -- for all his millions -- effectively "job locked" at Bain by a broken health insurance system that might have made it impossible to find coverage for Ann Romney if Mitt lost his insurance through Bain?
Ann Romney has talked frequently in recent months about how her fight against MS humanized her. But the Romney campaign has refused to answer questions from the Huffington Post about the couple's health insurance. Nor has Bain Capital revealed whether Romney retained his health insurance while working for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games of 2002 (SLOC).
But it would make sense if keeping his health insurance was one reason, maybe a big reason, why Romney remained linked to Bain after 1999.
Ann Romney became ill with multiple sclerosis in 1998, a year before her husband went to work for SLOC. Given her condition, it could have been very difficult for the Romneys to get health insurance through whatever insurer was covering SLOC employees. Utah, with its conservative regulatory climate, was not a place you wanted to try to get health insurance with a pre-existing condition. In 1999, the state had no laws stopping health insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or mandating that such people be offered an alternative insurance choice. (As of 2008, only five states had laws mandating that insurers sell policies to all who apply and fewer then ten states said that alternatives had to be available, according to a study by Families USA.)
Like most states, Utah allowed insurers to charge the customers they did accept any premiums they wanted and discriminate in their rates against less healthy customers. Still, it's hard to see why any insurer would have accepted Ann Romney as a customer, given the high costs of treating MS -- even in its mild forms.
In short, it's perfectly possible -- indeed likely -- that Ann Romney would not have been able to get any health insurance at all in Utah.
Unlike many Americans, the Romneys could afford to self-insure and pay Ann Romney's healthcare costs. And perhaps that is what they did when they moved to Utah.
But another choice would have made much more sense: for Mitt Romney to keep his insurance through Bain Capital even as he switched jobs. To do that, though, he may well have had to remain an employee of the company given the rules of Bain's health insurer.
Why does any of this matter? Because the imperative of keeping Ann Romney insured through Mitt's position at Bain would explain a lot at this moment, as controversy continues about his links to the firm.
And because, if this explanation is right, the case of the Romneys would be a dramatic example of how screwed up America's health insurance system was before Obama came along: A system in which no one, even the highest and mightiest, was safe from losing their insurance.
The episode could also help explain Mitt Romney's passion for healthcare as governor. As a result of the law he enacted, Massachusetts had become the best state in the country by 2008 in which to seek insurance with a pre-existing condition, according to the study by Families USA. In a different America, with a different Republican Party, Romney would be touting this accomplishment -- and telling Ann's story along the way.
The full details of the Romneys' experience with insurers would also be nice to know as Romney handles questions about how much of Obamacare he would repeal. For instance, while appearing on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno not long ago, Romney said "that he would like to guarantee access to insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, but only if they're already covered," according to the Huffington Post. "Romney didn't explain how he would help people who are uninsured because of their medical histories."