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Massachusetts Website Calls Mitt Romney's Health Care Mandate A 'Tax Penalty'

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WASHINGTON -- The description of Mitt Romney's Massachusetts' health care legislation as a "tax penalty" on official state government websites could add fuel to the debate over descriptions of the individual mandate, implemented in the Bay State and then nationally.

"Every year, you will need to show proof of health insurance on your state income tax return. If you do not have health insurance, you will face a stiff tax penalty," says the page, titled Massachusetts Health Care Reform: Tips and Resources.

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The current website for Massachusetts Health Connector, the state's clearinghouse for health insurance plans and payment, includes a page of tables to help residents "estimate the tax penalties" they can face for being uninsured for all or part of the year.

The "tax penalty" phrasing on these websites, which are some of the primary resources available to help Massachusetts residents navigate the series of state health insurance plans and regulations, appear to contradict Romney's own statements on the insurance mandate he put in place.

"The chief justice, in his opinion, made it very clear that at the state level, states have the power to put in place mandates ... And as a result, Massachusetts' mandate was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me, and so it stays as it was," Romney said Wednesday in an interview with CBS News.

The phrasing might also pose problems for Romney since, following the Supreme Court's ruling that Obama's health care mandate is considered a tax, he has criticized Obama for breaking his pledge that he "wouldn't raise taxes on middle-income Americans."

Jonathan Gruber, an economist who worked on health care under both Romney and Obama, has noted that the mandate in each piece of legislation is very similar. And while his preference is to refer to the mandate as a "penalty," he has also been clear that if it's to be called a tax for one politician, it should be the same for the other.

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