Sunday, September 4, 2011

Romney Defends State's Health Plan

Sunday, September 4, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Thursday delivered an unequivocal defense of the health-care plan he helped shepherd into law as governor, saying it had succeeded in covering the uninsured at a "modest" cost and was the right approach for the people who elected him.

Former Massachusetts governor and potential GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney defended the state's health care plan he instituted. He also sought to distance himself from President Obama's health care plan.

At the same time, he sharply criticized the national health-care law that President Barack Obama has said was modeled on Mr. Romney's, calling it a federal "power grab" and a "government takeover of health care."

The speech was designed to put behind him what has become his biggest political impediment to gaining the Republican nomination—the Bay State health plan that conservatives liken to the federal law they disparage as "ObamaCare."

Some Republicans who have made the federal health law the rallying cry for a conservative resurgence are openly questioning how they could put forward a nominee who, as governor, championed and secured his own universal health plan, one that included a state mandate that individuals buy health insurance.

"I had a half-million people who I was elected to serve who were frightened because they did not have insurance," Mr. Romney said in his defense, speaking favorably of insurance coverage that now covers 98% of Massachusetts residents.

He acknowledged conservative critics who have advised him to repudiate the plan as "a boneheaded mistake." But to do so, he said, "wouldn't be honest."

"I, in fact, did what I believe was right for the people of my state," he said.

Mr. Romney's appearance at a cardiac-care facility at the University of Michigan marked a new and more public phase in his presidential bid. He has built a significant fund-raising network and is in the top tier in most public-opinion surveys of the potential presidential candidates. Now, he will make his first trips of the year to the early nominating states of Iowa and South Carolina this month, before engaging in his first GOP debate of the campaign season in June in New Hampshire.

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His speech also touched off some of the first direct attacks among candidates in the 2012 campaign. Until now, the contenders have barely addressed each other in public comments.

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, said that the Massachusetts law had not improved health care or cut costs, faulting "a lack of foresight on Gov. Romney's part to understand the implications of his policy proposals.…Yes, the governor had the right to implement Romney-ObamaCare at the state level, but that does not make it the right thing to do."

Richard Quinn, a Carolina organizer for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a possible GOP candidate, said: "Is there anything Mitt Romney did as governor that he's actually proud of?" Other campaigns held their fire.

Working without a written text, Mr. Romney showed his roots in the management consulting world of Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Co., laying out his case with a 25-slide PowerPoint presentation.

Even as Mr. Romney criticized the president's national plan, his defense of the Massachusetts plan broadly echoed the arguments Mr. Obama has made for his own health policy. Both men have said the government mandate that individuals buy insurance was needed to prevent "free riders"—people who can afford to buy insurance but instead count on free care at hospitals that by law cannot turn the sick away.

Both men said their plans did not create "government insurance" but facilitated the purchase of private insurance. Both men said a compassionate nation couldn't tolerate large numbers of citizens without health insurance.

But Mr. Romney drew distinctions. He said his Massachusetts plan did not raise or create new taxes, as Mr. Obama's did, nor did it cut coverage for seniors. The president's plan cut funds for Medicare to help finance subsidies for individuals to buy private health plans.

Mr. Romney's main defense was constitutional: Under the 10th Amendment, states have the power to experiment, as Massachusetts did.

He laid out what he would do as president, hewing closely to familiar conservative ideas on health care: capping malpractice awards, turning Medicaid into block grants to the states, offering tax deductions to individuals who purchase health insurance, and expanding tax-advantaged health savings accounts.


Former Gov. Mitt Romney began a more public phase of his GOP presidential bid Thursday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Critics on the political left and right made clear Thursday they were not going to let Mr. Romney's health-care past slide. Michael Cannon, director of health policy at the libertarian Cato Institute, said that Mr. Romney "bears as much responsibility for ObamaCare as any Democrat, and all the Republican health policy boilerplate in the world won't change that fact."

Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the Heritage Foundation, suggested that Mr. Romney's defense of a state-imposed mandate, as opposed to Mr. Obama's federally imposed one, may be lost on a lot of voters. "He is drawing a legitimate distinction," Mr. Franc said. "But a lot of people aren't going to see that distinction. For them, a mandate is a mandate."

The Democratic National Committee mocked what it says were Mr. Romney's shifting positions and evolution to free-market conservative on health care. A new liberal group, Protect Your Care, posted Internet advertisements identifying points in common between the Massachusetts health-care plan and Mr. Obama's, such as the mandate to buy health insurance.

—Janet Adamy, Patrick O'Connor and Neil King Jr. contributed to this article.

Write to Jonathan Weisman at

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