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Romney may be in awkward spot as healthcare debate heats up

June 30, 2012|By Seema Mehta
  • Charles Dharapak / Associated Press
Charles Dharapak / Associated Press (m6c89kpd20120629180531/600 )

As Mitt Romney has campaigned across the nation, he has promised to repeal President Obama’s signature healthcare law and echoed other Republicans’ criticism of the law as an inappropriate power grab by the federal government that would lead to rationing of healthcare.

Then the Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional, asserting that requiring Americans either to buy health insurance or pay a penalty was permitted because Congress has the authority to levy taxes. Republicans across the nation used the ruling to argue that Obama broke a campaign promise to not  raise taxes on the middle class. Obama and his supporters have long argued that the penalty is not a tax, as it will be assessed only on people who make enough money to buy health insurance but refuse to do so. A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that predicted that only about 1% of the population would be assessed a penalty.

The new Republican assault puts Romney in a sticky position because the state plan he enacted as governor of Massachusetts used a similar mechanism to discourage freeloading – financially penalizing people who could afford to purchase insurance but declined to do so.

In a 2009 op-ed published in USA Today, Romney urged Obama to work with Republicans on healthcare reform, and he held up the Massachusetts system and its use of “incentives” as a model.

“We established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages 'free riders' to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others,” Romney wrote in the article, highlighted Friday by Talking Points Memo.

Massachusetts has taken in tens of millions of dollars annually because of this provision, including $20.6 million this year, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out Friday.

In his public comments since the ruling was handed down, Romney has avoided mention of his state plan, as he has long done on the campaign trail.

But as Republicans and Democrats continued to skirmish Friday over the Supreme Court ruling, one thing was clear: The issue of healthcare may be settled in the courts, but it’s not disappearing from the 2012 presidential contest anytime soon.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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