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Eyes on '12, Romney again defends Massachusetts health care plan

While President Obama has enthusiastically seized on Mitt Romney's record of tackling health care reform in his state, Romney is attempting to persuade his own party that his plan is different from the president's.

In a much-publicized address on his proposals to fix the nation’s health care system, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney again defended the health insurance plan he signed into state law in 2006, calling it a “more modest proposal” than the federal overhaul of insurance backed by President Barack Obama and reviled by Republicans.

Noting that many pundits have suggested he would benefit politically from a complete disavowal of the Massachusetts plan, the 2012 presidential hopeful said “it wouldn’t be honest” to reject his state’s health care overhaul as a mistake. “I, in fact, did what I think was right for the people of my state,” he said.

“Overall, am I proud of the fact that we did our best for our people and we got people insured?” he said. “Absolutely.”

Romney strove to draw contrasts between the Massachusetts plan he backed and the one Obama shepherded to passage.  “We didn’t create a government insurance program, or a government policy that people got,” he said of the Bay State law. (See here for an earlier post fact-checking some Romney's assertions about his plan.)

Romney argued that the Massachussetts “mandate” – the requirement that most individuals  purchase health insurance or pay a fine – was necessary to hold down overall health care costs in his state and addressed rising rates of uninsured residents, while a similar federal mandate implemented at the national level represents a “government takeover” and an “economic disaster” that should be repealed.

Going forward, he advocates that states – as Massachusetts did – create their own health care solutions free of federal direction.

“What I’ve described here is allowing 50 states to create their own approaches to the needs of their people,” he said. “And if states compete, voters in those states will vote out the people that didn’t come up with good ideas and vote in the people with better ideas, and we’ll end up with a system that’s more effective, that gives people better care, and shows the heart and compassion we always expect in the nation that’s the hope of the Earth.”

Sporting a suit jacket sans tie – Romney delivered his Powerpoint-assisted remarks on health care in a classroom at the University of Michigan’s medical school in Ann Arbor, resembling a professor more than a ticker-tape parade presidential candidate.

His support for the mandate in Massachusetts is a highly conspicuous hurdle for the 2012 contender in his race for the GOP nomination. The Wall Street Journal editorial page on Wednesday brutalized the former governor’s previous support for what it dubbed “a government mandate”, concluding that Romney’s most probable route to the White House would be by replacing Vice President Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket.

The fresh unpopularity (with Republicans) of his plan   -- which was lauded by many at the time of its passage as a bipartisan feat --  is not lost on the former governor.

Noting that the Massachusetts legislation was once considered one of his political strengths, he chuckled, “I hear some laughter in the room. That's not the case now.”

NBC's Domenico Montanaro contributed.