Health-care reform: Has Team Romney embraced the individual mandate?

Conservatives have howled over the health-care reform law's requirement that people buy insurance. But recent comments from the Romney campaign have some wondering if the presumptive GOP nominee is now embracing it.      

Charles Dharapak/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns at Central Campus High School in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012.

Has Team Romney endorsed the individual mandate, the central pillar of President Obama’s health-care law that the GOP otherwise loves to hate?

A Romney official seemed to indicate that Wednesday.

Commenting on the harsh ad just released by a pro-Obama "super PAC," in which an ex-steelworker basically blames Bain Capital for his uninsured wife’s death, spokeswoman Andrea Saul told Fox News that “if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health-care plan, they would have had health care.”

Yes, they would have, because the law Romney signed into office when he ran the Bay State requires it. (It also includes subsidies to help lower-income residents purchase insurance, as does Mr. Obama’s national law.)

It’s possible Ms. Saul’s reference was inadvertent. But Romney, who has aggressively distanced himself from his landmark legislation, appeared to cautiously embrace it during an appearance Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa.

“We’ve got to do some reforms in health care, and I have some experience doing that, as you know,” Romney said.

The presumptive Republican nominee went on to criticize the Affordable Care Act, known pejoratively as Obamacare. He said he could make a “better setting” than the incumbent when it came to preventing people with preexisting conditions from being dropped by insurers, assuring access to insurance for all, and so forth.

Still, some conservatives were apoplectic over the “Romneycare” references. Notable among them was Erick Erickson, editor of the RedState blog, who after learning of Saul’s comments tweeted that they could lose Romney the election.

“This was an unforced error of monumental idiocy,” he wrote Wednesday.

Conservatives should not allow Romney to tack left on this issue, Mr. Erickson wrote. If they do, enough voters from the center-right spectrum of the party might sit out the election to allow Obama to win.

“The reaction should come quickly and be vocal or the Romney campaign, which is not conservative, will take it as a tacit admission from conservatives that it is safe to let their hair down on these issues,” Erickson wrote on his blog.

Meanwhile, conservative pundit Ann Coulter called on Romney to fire Saul. Others bemoaned the fact that the Romney camp had not just dismissed the Bain ad as completely illegitimate and refused to discuss its specifics at all.

The ad – from pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action – has been widely denounced as unfair by independent fact-checkers. It does not mention that Romney says he left Bain Capital years before the steel company mentioned in the ad, GST Steel, went bankrupt. Nor does it mention that foreign competition was battering all US steel firms at the time, that the wife of steelworker Joe Soptic had her primary insurance through her own employer, or that she died some five years after GST went under.

Unsurprisingly, liberals have been quick to use Saul’s comment to try to argue that the widely debunked Priorities USA ad is in fact a clarifying moment in the presidential race.

“The Romney campaign now seems to be claiming that government-established universal health care is the answer to what to do about people like Ms. Soptic who lack insurance,” wrote liberal Greg Sargent on his Plum Line Washington Post blog. “That’s Obama’s argument for Obamacare.”

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