Some Conservatives Question Romney's Health Care Plan

BOSTON (AP) - Mitt Romney, who a year ago was heralding
Massachusetts' health insurance law, sometimes fails to mention the
far-reaching program when addressing conservative audiences Saturday.

The reason may be twofold: During the past 12 months, Romney has
moved from governor to Republican presidential contender, and some
conservatives have criticized the plan as fostering big government.

The program, which Romney signed into law a year ago Thursday,
includes a requirement that everyone in Massachusetts get some form
of health insurance by July 1. If they don't, they face a series of
increasing tax penalties.

That mandate amounts to an "unprecedented expansion of
government power," says Michael Tanner, a health policy expert at
the Cato Institute, a libertarian Washington think-tank.

The law also created the "Connector," a program for providing
low-cost policies aimed at attracting younger and healthier
residents who currently do not have insurance. Critics have
questioned demands by the Connector's overseers for prescription
drug coverage, as well as policies with premiums capped at $200 per

"There is a likening of this central concept of his - the
Connector - to managed competition, which was at the heart of the
1993 Clinton health care proposal," Tanner said. "In essence, you
have Romney embracing `Hillarycare,' and that doesn't play well on
the right."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, now a candidate for the
Democratic presidential nomination, led a failed effort to create a
national health insurance program during the first year her
husband, former President Bill Clinton, was in office.

Romney dismisses such comparisons, saying specifically at
campaign stops that the Massachusetts program is not
"Hillarycare." Instead, he casts it as a compromise in which the
government has created the environment for individuals to obtain
private health insurance rather than relying on government-funded
coverage at hospital emergency rooms.

The state's 550,000 previously uninsured will either get free
insurance through Medicaid, state-subsidized policies or affordable
private policies they can buy on their own. Even coverage for those
already with insurance must meet state-prescribed minimums.
The insurance mandate, the former governor says, is a means of
ensuring "personal responsibility," such as a state requirement
for drivers to carry auto insurance.

"His view is that people who can afford to buy health insurance
should do so or demonstrate they have the resources to pay their
own way," said Eric Fehrnstrom, who served as gubernatorial
communications director last year and now serves as a campaign
spokesman. "They should not get government or other people to pay
for them. His plan brought personal responsibility to health care
just like work was brought to welfare."

Nonetheless, Romney did not mention what Fehrnstrom described as
"one of his biggest accomplishments" during a wide-ranging
February speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in

The absence was noted at the time, even though other
conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation have embraced
his plan.

"The Connecter is a new market arrangement- a health insurance
exchange - in which individuals and families can choose and own
portable health insurance without the loss of the current generous
federal tax benefits," Robert E. Moffit, the director of the
Heritage Foundation's Center for Health Policy Studies, wrote in a
recent policy memo.

Romney made a personal contribution of $25,000 to the think-tank
in December 2005, although a Heritage spokesman said it had no
influence over the group's opinions.

Romney invited Moffit to be the final speaker at last year's
signing ceremony. Also attending the ceremony were a host of
Democratic legislators, who overwhelmingly passed the bill, and
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a frequent target of conservatives
but a collaborator with Romney on the measure.