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Here's how 'Senator Romney' can fix Obamacare

  • If Mitt Romney runs for the Utah Senate seat being vacated by Orrin Hatch, he would easily win.
  • But if Romney chooses to become another thorn in President Trump's side, it will be a wasted opportunity.
  • Instead, his unique experience with health insurance policy makes him the perfect person to forge a real Obamacare replacement.
Mitt Romney
Peter Kramer | NBC
Mitt Romney

Now that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is retiring, the speculation is former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will run for his seat in the 2018 midterms.

Spoiler Alert! He almost definitely will do just that. He even changed the location of his Twitter handle from Massachusetts to Utah just hours after the Hatch announcement.

Second Spoiler Alert! If Romney runs as expected, he'll win easily.

Now for the harder part: What does Romney do once he goes to Washington?

He could become a Republican thorn in President Donald Trump's side and present a new front in the overall #Resist or #NeverTrump movement.

After all, being an outspoken Republican critic of President Trump is a guaranteed ticket to major camera time on every cable news network outside of FOX. This surely will give Romney a chance to get back at President Trump for all the nasty things he's about him over the years.

But that strategy won't pay off.

Romney may not be a genius. But he's smart enough to see that Trump critics like outgoing Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are going for less than a dime-a-dozen. Getting into tit-for-tat public spats with President Trump doesn't make anyone look good.

"Romney may not be a genius. But he's smart enough to see that Trump critics like Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are going for less than a dime-a-dozen. Getting into tit-for-tat public spats with President Trump doesn't make anyone look good."

The truth is Romney shouldn't join the herd. Instead he can seize the unique opportunity he has to truly distinguish himself in the Senate and in U.S. political history.

Romney's special opportunity is all about Obamacare. To be more specific, it's about the replacement for Obamacare that Congress and the White House will have to come up with to stabilize the insurance markets.

Now that the tax reform law has eliminated the penalty for not having health insurance, the already depleted Obamacare exchanges will wither even more this year. Even when the individual mandate was in effect, there weren't enough enrollees to cover the enormous cost of universal health coverage. Health insurance companies have spent years complaining about this, and now it will surely get worse.

As a result, more insurers will stop offering Obamacare plans providing fewer and more expensive choices for the many Americans who do want coverage. The Congressional Budget Office's predictions concerning Obamacare over the years haven't been so great, but the CBO's prediction that eliminating the individual mandate penalty will increase insurance premiums by 10 percent seems pretty reliable.

Republicans who are still reeling from their multiple failed efforts to replace Obamacare in 2016 will face more pressure to do something this year. It will be exceedingly difficult to pass a replacement during an election year, but once the new Congress is sworn in, it will be a real priority.

In this environment, Congress and the president will have to do something.

Enter Romney, who has more experience than most Republicans on government- health insurance because of his time setting up "Romneycare" as Governor of Massachusetts.

During the 2012 presidential election, Romney insisted his plan was superior to Obamacare. Politically, Romney's argument was a tough sell to voters because it was obvious that Obamacare had largely been modeled after his own program in Massachusetts.

But while Romney wasn't able to beat President Obama, he has a great chance to win over a critical mass of his fellow Republican and Democratic senators on this issue.

That's because Romney is still a Republican, but no one is likely to cast him as a toady for the Trump White House. That kind of designation helped elevate the importance of GOP senators like Flake and Corker, and especially Senator John McCain in Democrats' eyes. It will help Romney too.

Also helping him bridge the partisan divide is that Romney has long been an advocate for getting as many Americans covered as possible. Since 2015, he's even softened his criticism of Obamacare on that score. This too will earn him at least a chance to work with Democrats.

On the other side of the aisle, Romney's argument for years is that major health insurance overhauls should be made at the state level. That's just the kind of idea that could bring more of the "state's rights Republicans" to the table.

These factors are why Romney has the best chance of working out some kind of deal to forge a viable replacement for the ACA.

Will anything positive for U.S. consumers come out of such a Romney-brokered new health care law? Obviously, we'd all need to see the details before making such a prediction about a new bill. But the point is Romney is probably one of the only people in America who can win a 2018 Senate election and work successfully to get a health insurance bill passed in 2019.

This is the path Romney should pursue to help not only his own reputation, but assist the entire country to move away from Trump-centered spats to a more substantive future.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.