"Gov. Romney was an early supporter of the individual mandate, and as governor put a mandate in place to ensure all Massachusetts residents were taking responsibility for their own health care and everyone could get covered at a lower cost," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement. "He called his health care reform plan a national model."
Romney says that his plan was right for his state, but insists it shouldn't have become the basis for a national plan.
If Obama intended to use the Massachusetts law as a model, "Why didn't he call me?" Romney routinely says when he's asked about the issue at campaign stops.
The individual mandate was originally proposed by a conservative think tank as an alternative to the national health plan that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton was proposing in the mid-1990s. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, then the Speaker of the House, backed the idea at the time.
Now, the public remains broadly opposed to an individual mandate. Six in 10 say they oppose a law that would require every American to have health insurance or pay a penalty if they don't. Just 34 percent support a mandate for individuals to have health insurance.
There are other provisions that are more popular. The health law also made it illegal for insurance companies to deny health coverage to people because of pre-existing medical conditions.
Still, that requirement is part of why the mandate is also included in the law — it makes sure that young, healthy people are buying insurance even if they don't need very much medical care. That brings down insurance costs for everyone. A mandate also keeps people from using emergency room care when they don't have insurance.
Romney recognized those realities at the state level. "Getting every citizen insured doesn't have to break the bank," he wrote in the 2009 opinion piece. "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."
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