KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Romney Confronts His Political Weakness: The Mass. Health Law

Mitt Romney, GOP presidential hopeful, delivered a speech today detailing what was right about the Massachusetts health reform plan that became law while he was governor, what is wrong with the federal health law that was enacted last year and what he would do to bring change to the health system. He spoke at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.

Kaiser Health News provides video excerpts of the speech.

The Associated Press: "Mitt Romney says last year's Democratic-passed health care law is a federal government takeover of health delivery. But he says his somewhat similar Massachusetts law was right for his state. ... Romney said his program was a state solution to a state problem. He said the Obama-backed law is a power-grab by the federal government to impose a one-size-fits-all plan on all 50 states" (Elliott, 5/12).

The New York Times: He "provided what he said were contrasts between the Massachusetts law, which he defended, and the one Mr. Obama signed into law, which he criticized as federal overreach. ... Mr. Romney defended his decision to insist on a mandate that all citizens buy insurance or face penalties as ensuring that they take personal responsibility for the costs of their own care rather than passing it on to taxpayers by showing up at emergency rooms that have to treat them by law. ... And he refused to apologize for his backing of the Massachusetts law, acknowledging the potential benefits to him of repudiating the law but adding, 'There's only one problem with that - it wouldn't be honest.' He added, 'I did what I thought would be right for the people of my state' (Rutenberg, 5/12).

The Wall Street Journal: "Working without a written text, Mr. Romney showed his roots in the management consulting world of Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company, laying out his case with a 25-slide PowerPoint presentation. ... Even as he criticized the president's national plan, Mr. Romney's comments about the Massachusetts law broadly echoed the arguments Mr. Obama has made for his own health policy. Both men have said a government mandate that individuals buy insurance was necessary to prevent 'free riders'-people who can afford to buy insurance but instead count on the free care of hospitals that by law cannot turn the sick away" (Weisman, 5/12).

Detroit Free Press: Romney said he would "issue an executive order on his first day in the White House to let states opt out of the system. Then he would begin implementing a system that provides states a block grant for Medicaid recipients, turning it over to them to try ways to cut costs. He would also provide individual purchasers of insurance the same tax break received by people who have insurance through their employers and create a system where people could keep their insurance even if they lost their jobs" (Spangler, 5/12).

The Boston Globe: His five-point proposal has an over-arching goal of giving states more power in the health coverage arena. He would give states block grants for Medicaid ... and allow them to craft their own coverage plans. ... Romney's plan also includes malpractice reform, capping damages in lawsuits and giving grants to states to come up with alternate ways to resolve legal disputes. His plan would still ensure that some people with preexisting conditions aren't refused access to coverage, one of the most popular aspects of the Obama plan. But Romney said that that requirement would apply to those who have already had insurance for an undefined amount of time - which could, in essence, still allow insurers to deny coverage" (Viser, 5/12).

MSNBC First Read: "In a much-publicized address on his proposals to fix the nation's health care system, ... Romney again defended the health insurance plan he signed into state law in 2006, calling it a 'more modest proposal' than the federal overhaul of insurance backed by President Barack Obama and reviled by Republicans.' ... Going forward, he advocates that states – as Massachusetts did – create their own health care solutions free of federal direction. ... His support for the mandate in Massachusetts is a highly conspicuous hurdle for the 2012 contender in his race for the GOP nomination" (Dann, 5/12).

The Washington Post's The Fix: He "used a speech on health care today in Michigan to send a broader message about his commitment to authenticity in the 2012 presidential race. Speaking to a small group of invited guests and reporters at the University of Michigan this afternoon, Romney, as expected, refused to apologize for signing a health care law in Massachusetts that has drawn unfavorable comparisons among Republicans to the national law put in place by President Obama" (Cilizza, 5/12).

Bloomberg:The likely Republican candidate "sought to defuse one of his biggest political liabilities with a speech on health care that tried to draw distinctions between a plan he supported and one pushed into federal law by President Barack Obama. ... Romney criticized the federal law for creating a "massive" bureaucracy, which he said the Massachusetts law didn't. He also called for giving states the responsibility and resources to care for the poor, uninsured and chronically ill, a tax deduction to those who buy their own health insurance, and reductions in the influence of lawsuits on medical care and costs (McCormick, 5/12).

CBS News Political Hotsheet: "Romney, who has been stung by charges of flip-flopping in the past, said his federal health care proposal had not changed from 2008, when he last ran for president -- even though his decision to sign the law has seemingly gone from a political asset to a liability" (Montopoli, 5/12).

Politico: He "offered no apologies and instead delivered a full-throated defense of his Massachusetts health care plan. ... Drawing distinctions between the plan he signed as governor of Massachusetts - which now stands as a serious obstacle to his prospective 2012 presidential candidacy - and President Obama's sweeping national overhaul, Romney argued that the 'administration fundamentally does not believe in the American experiment'" (Hunt, 5/12).

Politico, in a separate story: "Mitt Romney's campaign shared two pages of talking points with allies Thursday before confronting health care, but as with the former Massachusetts governor's speech, the document focused more on his new plan and how it differs with the federal health care law than on revisiting his Massachusetts plan. ... Much of the document outlines the basics of the plan ... but under the 'Top Line Message Points' there is one more reminder of how Romney hopes to explain the plan he pushed into law and that's now causing him so much political difficulty. 'Gov. Romney believes that states should be free to pursue their own healthcare solutions; there should not be a federal one-size-fits-all plan'"(Martin, 5/12).  

ABC News: An "an analysis by ABC News shows that not all Romney's claims are supported by the facts. ... For one, the former Massachusetts governor claimed that the health care plan he signed in 2006, five years ago, did not raise health care costs. ... Romney's claim that the law helped insure nearly half a million residents, though, is true. ... Romney also argued that unlike so-called "Obamacare," the Massachusetts health care plan did not raise taxes. While that claim is true, the law does impose tax penalties on those who don't have health coverage. ... Romney also argued that his plan did not create a government insurance program. While that is true, it did ... set up a system of exchanges where individuals and small businesses can shop for coverage" (Khan, 5/12). 

Scene-setting coverage just before the speech:

Politico: Mitt Romney's Law, Affordable Care Act Very Similar (Kliff, 5/12). 

The Boston Globe's Political Intelligence Blog: Flashback: Romney, WSJ Talk Health Care, Circa 2006 (Viser, 5/12).  

Los Angeles Times: In Healthcare Speech, Romney Seeks A Fresh Start (West, 5/12).

Kaiser Health News tracked other preview reports, which appeared earlier today and yesterday, May 11.

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.