HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The nation's health care system should be overhauled through plans tailored to individual states, not through a federal government takeover, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Friday.
As Massachusetts governor, he signed a law aimed at helping people who lacked health insurance. He is trying to take an issue popular among Democrats and put a conservative spin on it.
"A one-size-fits-all national health care system is bound to fail. It ignores the sharp difference between states and it relies on Washington bureaucracy to manage," Romney said. "I don't want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup to manage our health care system."
The government's role is to facilitate changes, not mandate them, Romney said during a speech before the Florida Medical Association.
Health insurance costs can be reduced by deregulating the insurance market, capping malpractice damages and making sure everyone is insured, Romney said.
"The problem of the uninsured is a problem for all Americans," he said, because those who can pay for health insurance help foot the bill for those who cannot.
Instead of using federal money to reimburse hospitals for treating people without insurance, that money should be used to help low-income people buy insurance at a lower cost, Romney said.
"No more free rides," he said. "Everybody pays what they can afford."
Romney's health care plan was quickly criticized by Democratic rival John Edwards, who said it fails to "take on" the drug and insurance industries and would "make a dysfunctional health care system even worse."
Edwards said in a statement released by his campaign the tax cuts proposed by Romney would primarily benefit the wealthy and the healthy, and that "taking money away from emergency rooms is downright dangerous."
"Mitt Romney's cure is worse than the disease," the former North Carolina senator said.
Touting his own universal health care plan at a campaign appearance Friday in Manchester, N.H., Edwards urged voters to look carefully at other candidates' plans.
He estimated his plan would cost $90 billion to $120 billion a year. Employers would be required to cover their workers or pay into a government insurance fund, and workers would get to choose among plans.
In Florida, Romney said states can tailor their approach to suit their specific populations.
"We made sure we did no harm," Romney said of his experience in Massachusetts. The employer-based insurance system works for many people, but for those who don't have that option, individual insurance needs to be made affordable, he said.
Glenn Zellman, a dermatologist who attended the meeting, said it was unrealistic for candidates to put forward proposals, delivered in stump speeches, that claim to fix such a complex issue.
"I think it's a little naive," Zellman said. "The goal is well-intended."
He said any change will have to address the malpractice issue. He estimated he spends $100,000 a year on tests that aren't necessary but which would help protect him from being sued.
"It's really a nightmare situation for doctors," he said.