HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - The nation's health-care system should be overhauled through plans tailored to individual states, not through a federal government takeover, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said yesterday.

As Massachusetts governor, he signed a law aimed at helping people who lacked health insurance.

"A one-size-fits-all national health-care system is bound to fail," Romney said. "It ignores the sharp difference between states, and it relies on Washington bureaucracy to manage. I don't want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup to manage our health-care system."

The government's role is to facilitate changes, not mandate them, Romney said during a speech to the Florida Medical Association.

Costs can be reduced by deregulating the insurance market, capping malpractice damages, and making sure everyone is insured, Romney said.

"The problem of the uninsured is a problem for all Americans," he said, because those who can pay for health insurance help foot the bill for those who cannot.

Instead of using federal money to reimburse hospitals for treating people without insurance, that money should be used to help low-income people buy insurance at a lower cost, Romney said.

Romney's health-care plan was criticized by Democratic rival John Edwards, who said it failed to "take on" the drug and insurance industries and would "make a dysfunctional health-care system even worse."

Edwards said in a statement released by his campaign that the tax cuts proposed by Romney would primarily benefit the wealthy and the healthy, and that "taking money away from emergency rooms is downright dangerous."

"Mitt Romney's cure is worse than the disease," the former North Carolina senator said.

Touting his own universal health-care plan at a campaign appearance yesterday in Manchester, N.H., Edwards urged voters to look carefully at other candidates' plans.

He estimated his plan would cost $90 billion to $120 billion a year. Employers would be required to cover their workers or pay into a government insurance fund, and workers would get to choose among plans.

In Florida, Romney said states could tailor their approach to suit specific populations.

"We made sure we did no harm," he said of his experience in Massachusetts. The employer-based insurance system works for many people, but for those who do not have that option, individual insurance needs to be made affordable, he said.