What was once the signature achievement of Mitt Romney's time as Massachusetts governor – a plan aimed at ensuring all of the state's residents have health insurance – is today the target of Romney's rivals for the Republican nomination.
Why today? November 15 happens to be the deadline for Massachusetts residents to sign up for an insurance plan or else face tax penalties. As the Associated Press notes, this follows earlier incentives to sign up for coverage, such as an expansion of subsidized health care by the state, and a requirement for private insurers to offer less expensive policies.
Fred Thompson has struck the harshest blow so far. In a release today, after noting that Massachusetts residents face an average fine of $219 this year and $2,000 over the next year, the campaign points out that Romney's plan has a $50 co-pay for abortions and says "Mitt Romney's plan covers ALL abortions – no restrictions."
Other critiques have been more subtle. Rudy Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella closed out a schedule update for reporters with a reminder: "Before I forget, for all of you in Massachusetts who aren't signed up for health insurance, you have until Thursday before you get stuck with a fine."
The Romney campaign has responded with a release of its own, touting "a record of conservative health care reform." It says that nearly half of the state's uninsured are now covered under the plan, and coverage costs as little as $175 a month. The release also notes that Romney vetoed an attempt to impose a fee on businesses that don't contribute toward their employees' health insurance.
But when it comes to covering abortions, the explanation is buried behind effusive praise for the plan: "The Massachusetts Health Plan benefits package was developed by… an independent body separate from the governor's office. Unfortunately, under state law and court precedent, if the state is funding health care benefits it cannot refuse to provide abortion coverage."
Romney's defense basically amounts to "it's not my fault" – an excuse that might not sit well with some conservatives, especially those already turned off by the idea of mandatory health care.