(CNN) – On the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, Republican presidential candidates are turning up the heat on front-runner Mitt Romney, blasting the former Massachusetts governor for providing a "blueprint" they claim led to President Barack Obama's controversial health care reform.
Among the attacks, rivals point to an op-ed Romney wrote in 2009, in which he recommended the Bay State's health care plan as a model for the federal government.
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In the op-ed, Romney wrote "the lessons we learned in Massachusetts could help Washington find" a "better way."
Romney essentially called on Obama to require Americans to buy insurance as part of the federal health care plan, imposing what Romney called "tax penalties" as a backstop.
Opponents use that argument to pin Romney as a supporter of individual mandates.
Romney made similar arguments in a 2009 interview with CNN's Jim Acosta, saying "there are number features in the Massachusetts plan that could inform Washington on ways to improve health care for all Americans."
He explained that the Massachusetts plan insured people "without a government option," though it did include a health insurance mandate, which some tea party Republicans find unappealing.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has especially pointed to Romney's 2009 op-ed in recent weeks and argues the former governor would be the weakest candidate to compete against Obama based on the issue.
On Friday, Santorum's campaign released a hard-hitting statement, saying "Romneycare = Obamacare" and leveled charges that Massachusetts now allows for "free taxpayer funded abortions" with co-pays starting at $50. Newt Gingrich's campaign has also attacked Romney over the abortion issue.
While Massachusetts does provide state assistance in abortion payments, the health care law that Romney signed in 2006 did not mention abortion coverage, according to PolitiFact. His campaign points out that an independent agency, the Commonwealth Connector, was responsible for developing criteria for state assistance on such matters, not the governor's office.
"Sen. Santorum is desperate to salvage his flailing campaign and all he can do is recycle widely-debunked claims," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement responding to Santorum's attacks Friday. "No matter how many false attacks he includes in his speeches, Rick Santorum cannot hide the fact that he is an economic lightweight who has zero job-creation experience."
Obama also referenced Romney's Massachusetts law this week, saying he designed the federal plan after the Bay State model and claimed Romney is "now pretending like he came up with something different."
On Friday, Romney penned another op-ed in USA Today, defending his actions as governor on health care and stating why he would repeal the federal law on his first day in office.
"President Obama's program is an unfolding disaster for the American economy, a budget-busting entitlement, and a dramatic new federal intrusion into our lives," Romney wrote. "To the extent that we have any federal regulation, it should focus on helping markets work."
Romney has repeatedly said on the campaign trail that the Massachusetts law worked well for his state, but he would not impose federal health insurance requirements nationwide, instead leaving states to create and regulate their own programs.
"Most Americans want to get rid of the (Affordable Care Act), and we are among those Americans," Romney said. "I want to get rid of it, too."