DENVER (AP) — Claiming health care bragging rights, Mitt Romney said Thursday his plan to provide health insurance to everyone in Massachusetts was superior to the one it inspired, President Barack Obama's much-debated national law.
"My health care plan I put in place in my state has everyone insured, but we didn't go out and raise taxes on people and have a unelected board tell people what kind of health care they can have," Romney said in an interview with CBS' Denver affiliate, KCNC.
The law signed by Romney in 2006 sought to expand health care but did not guarantee coverage for all. Romney and Massachusetts lawmakers decided that rather than reinvent the entire health care system, they would instead close a series of holes, allowing the vast majority of residents to keep their existing plans.
Obama's law basically followed the same outline — a private insurance system with an expanded government safety net. But there are some important differences.
The federal law is national, and most of its important provisions are binding even in states that oppose it. Romney's law was a state effort that enjoyed support from both political parties, and the Republican candidate argues that health care reform should remain a state prerogative.
Obama's law cut Medicare payments to hospitals, insurers and other service providers. As a state law, Romney's plan had no effect on Medicare.
Romney's law has led to about 400,000 Massachusetts residents gaining coverage, state officials say. More than 98 percent of state residents are covered. Obama's law has already led to coverage for more than 2.5 million young adults on their parents' plans. If all of its provisions go into effect, more than 30 million uninsured people will be covered.
The Massachusetts law requires residents to have insurance, with certain exemptions.
Those who can show they earn too much to qualify for the state's subsidized health care plan, but not enough to afford even the least expensive nonsubsidized plan, are not required to pay the so-called "individual mandate" penalty.
The Supreme Court ruled that Obama's individual mandate constitutional — as a tax. It, too, has exemptions for financial hardship, religious beliefs, and membership in an American Indian tribe.
The law Romney signed also created an unelected board — known as the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority Board — which oversees an independent state agency that decides what level of insurance complies with the state law.
The agency can also exempt people whose financial hardships prevent them from enrolling in health insurance.
Since Obama's plan was modeled on Romney's, some conservatives remain wary of the former Massachusetts governor. Some GOP activists were angered when a Romney spokeswoman touted the Massachusetts plan on Fox News earlier this month.
In Thursday's interview, one of a series the presumptive Republican presidential nominee gave local broadcast outlets in swing states, Romney was asked how he'd appeal to women voters on health care and other issues. The Obama campaign has been pounding Romney for his stances on birth control, abortion and other women's issues.
Romney replied by talking about how he'd improve the economy and education. Then he shifted to health care, saying it was "a big issue."
Romney also laughed off concerns that a hurricane could disrupt the Republican National Convention in Tampa next week. "The winds of change are coming," he said, "so we're looking forward to it."
AP Writers Steve LeBlanc in Boston and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.