On Thursday, presumptive 2012 GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney formally attempted to distinguish the Massachusetts law requiring all state residents to obtain health insurance -- which he signed in 2006 -- from the federal health reform law, which congressional Democrats and the Obama administration modeled after the state law, the Washington Post reports (Tumulty, Washington Post, 5/12).
In a speech at the University of Michigan to physicians, health policy experts and local officials, Romney acknowledged the criticism by Democrats and Republicans, who have questioned his viability as a presidential candidate because of an obvious discrepancy in his role to enact the state's universal coverage law and his opposition to the federal law, the New York Times reports (Rutenberg, New York Times, 5/12).
Making His Case
During his speech, Romney conceded that there could be some personal benefit if he apologized for the 2006 state law and distanced himself from it, according to The Hill's "Blog Briefing Room" (O'Brien, "Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 5/12).
He said, "[A] lot of pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up and say this whole thing was a mistake, that this was a boneheaded idea, and I should just admit it: It was a mistake, and walk away," adding, "There's only one problem with that: It wouldn't be honest" (Hunt, Politico, 5/12). "I did what I believed was right for the people of my state," he continued.
Using a series of PowerPoint slides, Romney:
- Illustrated what he thought are the differences between the two laws;
- Offered a defense of the state law's individual mandate; and
- Outlined his blueprint for repealing and replacing the federal overhaul if he is elected next year (Kliff , Politico, 5/12).
Romney said the decision by his administration to include a mandate -- a centerpiece of the federal health reform law that has drawn strong opposition from Republicans -- was a move to force state residents to take "personal responsibility" for their health care and stop those who would seek to take advantage of the government's support for health care.
"Our plan was a state solution to a state problem," while the national law was a "power grab by federal government to put in place a one-size-fits-all plan," Romney added ("Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 5/12).
He acknowledged that the state law "included a number of things I wish I could do differently," but noted, "Overall, am I proud of the fact that we did our best for our people, and got people insured? Absolutely" (New York Times, 5/12).
Romney said that if elected president, his first course of action on health care would be to issue an executive order that would provide all states with waivers allowing them to opt out of the federal law, the Post reports.
He said he would then push forward a series of measures that would:
- Provide individual states with adequate resources and flexibility to determine coverage requirements for uninsured residents;
- Facilitate a more free-functioning and efficient health care market (Washington Post, 5/12);
- Offer tax deductions for consumers to purchase their own insurance;
- Transform the structure of Medicaid; and
- Limit damages in medical malpractice lawsuits (Hunt, Politico, 5/12).
Reactions to Speech
Jonathan Gruber -- an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who assisted Romney in the development of the state law and consulted the Obama administration on the federal law -- said, "It's basically his effort to take health care off the table" (Washington Post, 5/12).
According to the Times, Thursday's speech was intended to address the "biggest threat" facing his widely expected presidential campaign, which still is in its exploratory phase.
Following the speech, some political strategists and observers said that Romney was successful and that his campaign for the GOP nomination would have one less obstacle in its path (New York Times, 5/12).
However, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a chief economic adviser in Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, said the speech "is going to be far less of a disqualifier in a general election than it is in a Republican primary," adding that the 2012 election "is, in the end, going to be a referendum on [Obama]" (Washington Post, 5/12).
Meanwhile, Democrats continued to note the parallels between the state and federal laws. White House press secretary Jay Carney said that Romney "seems to be running away from some of the goals of his own law," adding that there are "a lot of similarities" between the two laws (Hunt, Politico, 5/12).
Group Uses Google Ads To Link Mass. Law With Federal Law
Protect Your Care -- a pro-health reform group organized under the direction of current Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) -- on Thursday began sponsoring a series of Google advertisements that highlight Romney's role in the Massachusetts universal coverage law and its link to the federal health reform law, Politico reports.
The ads are coded to appear when Internet users search for specific terms related to Romney's speech, such as "Romney's health plan," and they will appear to users in the District of Columbia, Michigan and New Hampshire (Kliff , Politico, 5/12).