I can't help thinking that there might be an easy way for Mitt Romney to alleviate, if not entirely solve, his health care problem.
Rep. Paul Ryan has introduced a health care reform package to replace Obamacare in the case that a Republican wins in 2012. Ryan's plan is a variation on a free-market model that's been floating around policy circles for over a decade; it looks a lot like John McCain's 2008 campaign proposal. The idea is to replace the tax preference for employer-provided health insurance with a universal refundable tax credit for private health insurance. There are many possible criticisms of such a plan, but that it resembles Obamacare too closely would not be one of them.
When Ryan came up with the "Roadmap" reform for Medicare and the budget, it didn't go very far at first. Eventually, however, it became expected that conservatives would support it, and ultimately congressional Republicans united behind it. Romney himself said that he would sign a bill implementing the Ryan plan if he were president, although he hedged by saying he would come up with his own plan.
So why doesn't Romney simply endorse Ryan's replacement for Obama's health care law?
It would certainly answer a lot of questions about Romney's attitude toward Obamacare. And instead of being associated with a relatively liberal health care model, he would get a head start on what will likely be one of the next big conservative policy ideas.
There would be nothing inconsistent about Romney supporting Ryan's approach while still defending his own law in Massachusetts: as he's said a thousand times, his reform was a state solution for a state problem, and not necessarily a model for what he would do on the national level. There's nothing in Ryancare that a supporter of Romney necessarily would find objectionable. And it's a fairly mainstream Republican approach, as the McCain campaign showed, so Romney wouldn't be taking too much of a risk.
Again, Romney wouldn't eliminate all his problems on the issue of health care by embracing Ryan's plan. For one thing, in the general election, Obama would still be able to point out the similarities between Romneycare and his own law, blunting Republican criticisms of Obamacare. But it could only help reassure primary voters suspicious of Romney's health care message.