Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney Thursday defended enacting a universal health-care program as the "right thing to do" for his state and refused to walk away from an individual mandate provision that conservatives despise as a model for President Obama's health law.
Seeking to address his biggest liability in the race for the Republican nomination, Romney said that his plan was "a more modest proposal" than Obama's plan, which he said "doesn't lower costs...raises taxes, diverts Medicare funds and kills jobs."
The only thing the two plans share, Romney said during a speech at the University of Michigan medical campus in Ann Arbor, is the mandate that individuals buy health insurance. That is important to avoid the problem of "free riders" who refuse to carry coverage because they know they can get charity care paid for by taxpayers if they get sick.
"A lot of punditsy are saying I should just stand up and say this is a mistake, a boneheaded idea…just walk away from it," Romney said. That would "be better for me politically, but the problem is it would not be honest. I did what I thought was right."
If he were president, Romney said he would issue waivers for every state from the requirements of the Obama law. He would allow each state to design its own plan for covering the uninsured and the vulnerable, and would turn the Medicaid program for the poor into a block grant program run by the states.
Decentralization is "more effective and productive," Romney said. "The Obama adminsitration fundamentally does not believe in that American experiment. They distrust free enterprise" and state governments.