Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Thursday refused to apologize for enacting a health care plan that critics say mirrors the one President Obama passed last year, defiantly arguing that his state-based approach was different than the president’s and the right legislation for Massachusetts.
“I also recognize, a lot of pundits are saying I should stand up and say this whole thing was a mistake,” said the Republican presidential hopeful, speaking at a classroom at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“But there’s only one problem with that—it wouldn’t be honest,” continued Romney, who championed the now-controversial Massachusetts plan when he was governor. “I, in fact, did what I felt was right for the people of my state.”
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Romney’s highly anticipated speech was meant to answer critics of the state health care plan, which has become a political albatross for the candidate considered the GOP primary’s early front-runner. But in remarks that resembled a classroom lecture more than campaign stump speech, Romney opted for a rigorous defense of the measure instead of offering an apology.
During a question-and-answer session after the speech, Romney told audience members that his plan included provisions he opposed and hadn’t been implemented perfectly. But he said it was necessary to help half-a-million of his constituents receive health insurance.
“We’re going to care for one another,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that in our state, when we faced real challenges … we didn’t just say, ‘Well, it’s a problem no one can solve.’ We said, ‘We gotta job to do. We gotta help people.
“It wasn’t perfect,” Romney continued. “It included a number of things I’d do differently.… But overall, am I proud of fact we did our best for people, and we got people insured? Absolutely.”
The presumed presidential candidate – whose campaign officially remains in an exploratory phase – offered a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal to critics who compare his plan to Obama's federal health care law, arguments he has repeatedly made many of the same point in interviews and speeches before. The chief difference: The plan Romney enacted was state-based, not national. Citing the 10th Amendment -- a favorite of conservatives -- Romney argued that he was following the country’s best tradition of letting states be the country’s “laboratories for democracy.”
“The first distinction between what we did in my state and President Obama did was our plan was a state solution to a state problem, and his was a power grab by federal government to put in place a one-size-fits-all plan,” said Romney.
The former governor’s health care plan is routinely compared to Obama’s because both include a mandate for individuals to buy health insurance. Romney offered a spirited defense of his plan’s mandate, saying uninsured people in his state were driving up costs for others because they realized they could receive free health care.
“This is what we would call [the] free-rider program,” he said. “It wasn’t a larger number of people, but a growing problem.”
In addition to demanding the immediate repeal of the federal health care law, Romney outlined a plan to replace it that he said would empower states to solve their own problems while emphasizing market-based approaches. Like Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, it includes block-granting Medicaid funds to states, but does include any changes to Medicare.
Romney said he would unveil his Medicare agenda at a later date, adding that although it wouldn’t be identical to what Ryan proposed, it would include features that he said took advantage of “market dynamics” and added choice. Many Republican presidential aspirants are keeping an arms-length distance from Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare.
Members of the Romney camp acknowledged before the speech that it wouldn’t silence critics, a fact that he acknowledged in his remarks. One of Romney’s rivals, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, wasted little time blasting “Romneycare” as “infringing upon individual freedom.”
“This is not a failure of execution, but a lack of foresight on Governor Romney’s part to understand the implications of his policy proposals,” Santorum said in a statement that directly linked Romney with Obama. “We need leaders who believe in the American people again, not the power of government to solve our problems.
“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.”