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Romney Seeks to Distance Himself From Health-Care Bill He Signed

Mitt Romney delivers a speech in Michigan today aimed at addressing questions about the 2006 health-care bill he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts that is among his biggest political liabilities as he prepares for a likely run for the Republican presidential nomination.

“If I am elected president, I will issue on my first day in office an executive order paving the way for waivers from ObamaCare for all 50 states,” Romney wrote in an opinion column that previewed the speech and was published yesterday on USA Today’s website. “Subsequently, I will call on Congress to fully repeal ObamaCare.”

The term “ObamaCare” is a shorthand term Republicans use for the health-care legislation that President Barack Obama pushed through the then-Democratic-controlled Congress last year. Aspects of the law are similar to the Massachusetts measure.

“With the passage of ObamaCare last year, the president and the Congress took a wrong turn,” Romney wrote. “My plan is to harness the power of markets to drive positive change in health insurance and health care.”

The changes he proposes would seek to “return power to the states, improve access by slowing health-care cost increases, and make health insurance portable and flexible for today’s economy,” Romney wrote.

Insurance Requirement

The Massachusetts law, like the federal law, requires people to purchase health insurance. The state measure looms as an obstacle to supporting Romney among many Republican activists, including members of fiscally conservative Tea Party groups.

“It’s an incredibly big deal,” said Ryan Rhodes, a leader of the Iowa Tea Party, based in the state that holds the first contest in the nomination process. “How do you run against ObamaCare when he based that on your plan in Massachusetts?”

In his USA Today column, Romney makes little mention of the Massachusetts law.

“Some states might pass a plan like the one we did in Massachusetts, while others will choose an altogether different route,” he wrote. “We can empower states to expand health-care access to low-income Americans by block-granting funds for Medicaid and the uninsured.”

In announcing his speech in Michigan, Romney’s presidential campaign exploratory committee listed what it called his “principles for health-care reform,” which include giving states the responsibility and resources to care for the poor, uninsured and chronically ill; giving a tax deduction to those who buy their own health insurance; and reducing the influence of lawsuits on medical care and costs.

Making Distinctions

Romney, who is among the top tier of candidates in polls about potential Republican candidates, has previously tried to make distinctions between the Massachusetts law and the plan passed by Congress.

“One thing I’d never do, by the way, would be to impose a one-size-fits-all plan like Obamacare on the nation,” Romney said at a forum in New Hampshire last month. “That’s simply wrong and unconstitutional, and it won’t work.”

Democrats have praised the Massachusetts law and made a point of noting Romney’s involvement in its passage.

“I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own health-care solutions,” Obama said Feb. 28 in remarks to the country’s governors.

Preempting Others

Romney’s speech today at the University of Michigan’s Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor is designed to explain his health-care record and offer a detailed plan on the issue before others in the still-developing Republican field do so.

Anything short of an apology and an admission of error may not be enough to satisfy some Republican activists.

“He’s going to have to unequivocally say that we need to roll this back and that we don’t need the government in our health care,” said Rhodes, the Iowa Tea Party leader. “It ranks right up there because it’s part of our debt and deficit issue.”

David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, said, “The concerns of conservatives in the party about the health-care issue is a manifestation of the general concern about Romney, an uncertainty about whether he’s really one of them.”

Rohde, who previously taught at Michigan State University in East Lansing for 34 years, said that “to whatever degree he can ameliorate the concern about the health-care issue might help ameliorate concerns about how conservative he is.”

Michigan Ties

Romney, 64, chose to deliver the speech in Michigan because he feels comfortable there and the state conducts an early primary, said Bill Ballenger, editor of the nonpartisan newsletter Inside Michigan Politics. Romney was born and raised in Michigan; his father, George Romney, served as the state’s governor for three terms, and his brother, G. Scott Romney, practices law in Detroit.

Mitt Romney “always seems to come back to Michigan when he’s going to do something important,” including announcing his 2008 presidential bid, Ballenger said in a telephone interview. “It’s almost like coming home.” Romney lost the 2008 Republican presidential nomination to Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Before his 2003-2007 term as Massachusetts’ governor, Romney co-founded the Boston-based private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC and helped turn the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, into a financial success. He touts those credentials as the U.S. economy struggles to rebound from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Romney has been accelerating his travel schedule to early primary and caucus states, including Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

-- Editors: Don Frederick, Leslie Hoffecker

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