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Republicans Now Against the Individual Mandate

September 23, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Requiring all individuals to get health insurance or pay a fine has long been considered one of the basic elements of reform that everyone in Congress could agree on. But on the first day of the Senate Finance Committee’s health care mark-up, Senate Republicans began changing their tune:

Advocates of a coverage mandate say it is needed to ensure that young, healthy people get insurance and contribute to the system. They say this will ease costs associated with an influx of less-healthy people who are expected to get coverage under the Baucus legislation.

Republicans, who are trying to slow Democratic efforts to pass a health overhaul by the end of the year, rushed to criticize the proposal.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the Finance Committee’s senior Republican, said the mandate is among the reasons that he couldn’t support the bill despite months of negotiations with Mr. Baucus. “Individuals should maintain their freedom to chose health-care coverage, or not,” he said.

“This bill is a stunning assault on liberty,” said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican.

There has actually been some similar talk from the Left on this. If Congress isn’t going to pass a bill with a robust public option to help bring down the cost of insurance, it doesn’t make sense to require people to buy the same insurance at the same rate that they have chosen not to buy as a free market actor, some progressives argues. David Waldman made the case pretty forcefully on Daily Kos a few weeks back.

So, is there grounds for a compromise that involves a robust public option and a bill without an individual mandate? Without giving it too much thought, I’m guessing not. Making insurance cheaper is probably not enough to get young, healthy people to buy insurance voluntarily, for example. Somehow the bill has to cover demographics that are susceptible to accidents and illnesses that they couldn’t pay for on their own. That becomes a drain on the system and causes health care costs to go up for everyone, which is exactly what Congress and the President hope to address with the reform.

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