- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once praised the health care law enacted in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination.

In an April 2006 memo, Mr. Gingrich called it “the most exciting development of the past few weeks.” He also said the law has “tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system.”

The memo from Mr. Gingrich’s Atlanta-based Center for Health Transformation came to light Tuesday as Mr. Gingrich set out on a 22-stop bus tour of Iowa in the run-up to the state’s Jan. 3 caucuses.

The memo also noted shortcomings in the Massachusetts law. Mr. Gingrich said the state’s many regulations prohibited insurers from offering cheaper plans that would make coverage affordable.

But Mr. Gingrich went on to note that that “we agree entirely with Gov. Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100 percent insurance coverage for all Americans.”

Mr. Gingrich and others have argued that the Massachusetts law, widely seen as the model for President Obama’s national health overhaul, undercuts Mr. Romney’s conservative credentials.

Mr. Gingrich also has faced questions about his past support for an individual health care mandate, anathema to conservatives.

A Gingrich spokesman said the former Georgia congressman’s comments are “old news that has been covered already.”

“Newt previously supported a mandate for health insurance and changed his mind after seeing its effects,” said the spokesman, R.C. Hammond. “The real question is why ‘Mitt the Massachusetts Moderate’ won’t admit that health insurance mandates don’t work.”

Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney have sparred over which one of them is truly conservative.

The Gingrich memo was first reported Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal.

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