BOSTON — Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is hailing the sixth anniversary of Massachusetts' landmark health care law and crediting former Gov. Mitt Romney, the expected Republican presidential nominee, with pushing the most controversial element of the statute.
Patrick chose Boston's Faneuil Hall for Wednesday's event, the same venue picked by Romney to sign the bill in 2006. At the time, Romney surrounded himself with Massachusetts political leaders, including the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Patrick, who serves as a national co-chairman for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, said Romney should embrace the law, including the so-called individual mandate that requires nearly everyone in Massachusetts be insured or face a penalty
"I think he has a lot to be proud of. He contributed ideas as well, the individual mandate is one of them," Patrick said. "I sense that he's personally proud of (the law) because there's a facsimile of it that appears in his official portrait which is hanging in the governor's office.
"Why not be proud of something that has helped so many people?" Patrick added.
But a spokeswoman for Romney said Patrick was "playing politics and misrepresenting Gov. Romney's record."
"This is business as usual from Deval Patrick and the Beacon Hill machine who want to talk about anything but President Obama's failed record," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "Mitt Romney is opposed to Obamacare because it's an unconstitutional takeover of health care, and Mitt Romney will repeal it."
When asked later in an email how Patrick was misrepresenting Romney's record, she did not immediately respond.
Romney has been criticized by some in his party for his support of the Massachusetts law, which became the model for Obama's national health care law in 2010.
At the time of its passage, Romney pushed for the individual mandate and called the law historic. During his current campaign, he has both defended his decision to sign the Massachusetts law while also calling for the repeal of Obama's national health care law, which was modeled off the state law. Romney has said it should be left to individual states to come up with health care solutions.
Not everyone in Massachusetts gives Romney as much credit for crafting the law.
Former Democratic Senate President Robert Travaglini helped negotiate the details of the 2006 law and said Romney played less of a central role.
"Romney had the political skills and sense to realize there was a potential victory here and at the time he was looking for victories," Travaglini said. "I don't think that he was the driving force or a leader in this discussion."
"If there was any real leader in this I would give that credit to Ted Kennedy," Travaglini added.
Kennedy died in 2009 of brain cancer.
In Massachusetts, the law has helped insure an additional 400,000 people since 2006, according to state officials. That's driven the number of insured Massachusetts residents to more than 98 percent of the population, including 99.8 percent of children — the highest rate of insured residents of any state.
The cost has been "marginal and very manageable," according to Michael Widmer of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
"This fact runs counter to much of the national debate and claims that this has been a budget-buster," he said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
State officials say more businesses have also begun offering insurance to workers because of the law.
Mona Rudolph is one of those 400,000 residents who got insurance through the law.
Rudolph, a deacon at Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Boston, said she lost her insurance when she lost her job as an accountant in 2005. The following year, she began to experience a series of health problems that would include diabetes, high blood pressure and a type of lupus.
Rudolph said she was lucky the state passed the health care law.
"I was able to get insurance quickly and a doctor was able to see me immediately," she said. "That was a real blessing for me."
Since the law was signed, the state has collected about $77 million in penalties from Massachusetts residents who have been deemed able to afford insurance but have refused to obtain coverage.
In 2007, about 67,000 were required to pay a penalty. That declined to 53,000 in 2008 and 48,000 in 2009, the most recent statistics the state has.