- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mitt Romney will deliver a speech about health care this week, tackling one of his biggest vulnerabilities before formally entering the still-forming field of Republican presidential contenders.

The former Massachusetts governor will outline a health overhaul that would give states the responsibility of taking care of the poor, uninsured and ill, aides said, and propose giving patients a tax deduction if they buy their own health insurance.

Mr. Romney’s speech Thursday at the University of Michigan will address how, if elected president, he would lead a repeal of President Obama’s national health care overhaul which is similar to an effort Mr. Romney helped implement in Massachusetts.

Mr. Romney, who is expected to formally join the White House field in the coming weeks, is looking to put behind him questions about the health care law before announcing his candidacy.

During his first White House bid, Mr. Romney waited until December just weeks before the leadoff Iowa caucuses to address his Mormon faith. Christian conservatives were wary of Mr. Romney’s faith and he came up short in the caucuses.

His advisers said they learned from that lesson and suggested a speech even before he officially joined the race or attended his first debate. The speech also would allow Mr. Romney to claim he was the first among the candidates to detail an alternative to Democrats’ plan.

Even so, it is unlikely that a speech alone would put the health care question behind him. Mr. Romney’s critics and rivals are unlikely to drop their attacks. And conservatives, who hold huge sway in the nominating process, loathe Mr. Obama’s plan; Mr. Romney’s critics say Massachusetts’ plan was a model for the national health care overhaul.

The president himself has praised the Massachusetts’ plan.

Speaking to a bipartisan group of governors in February, Mr. Obama said: “I know that many of you have asked for flexibility for your states under this law. In fact, I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, considered with Mr. Romney a front-runner in the field of potential GOP candidates said earlier this year that the former Massachusetts governor should apologize for the health care law.

“He has to say either ‘I love it,’ ‘I hate it,’ or, ‘Hey I tried it, it didn’t work and that’s why I would say to you, let’s not do it nationally,’ ” Mr. Huckabee said then.